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County thorough in verifying voter signatures

Garfield County Elections Clerk Maria Gornick, seated, and county election judges Laurence Singing and Cheri Brandon examine returned mail ballots on Monday, checking to make sure the signature on the envelope matches the voter signature on file.
Christopher Mullen / Post Independent |

Garfield County’s top election official says great care is taken to ensure the voter affidavit signature that shows up on the back of each returned mail ballot envelope in advance Election Day next Tuesday matches up.

But no ballot is ever tossed out because of a suspected signature discrepancy without first checking with that voter, County Clerk and Recorder Jean Alberico said.

“I know there have been some stories floating around out there that have caused a stir about the signature verification process that we go through,” Alberico said of news reports that ballots in some states have gone uncounted because the signature on the ballot didn’t match the ones on file with election officials.

In Garfield County, each day since ballots started coming in earlier this month, the signatures on all completed and returned ballots are inspected closely, she said.

“We have one Republican representative and one Democratic representative who sit with a staff member to inspect the signatures,” she said. “If a signature doesn’t match, they confer and decide whether to send that voter a letter asking if they in fact completed and returned the ballot.

“If they respond and say ‘yes,’ it gets counted, and if they say ‘no,’ it doesn’t get counted,” Alberico said.

Only in a handful of cases, typically involving less than 0.4 percent of the ballots received, is a letter actually sent to the voter seeking confirmation that they cast the ballot in question, she said.

Local election officials go to great lengths to check and double-check a signature before making that determination, including cross-checking the signed voter affidavit with multiple signatures that are on file.

“Anything that we have on file that the voter has signed can be used,” Alberico said. That includes voter affidavits from previous elections, whether it’s a mail ballot or a signature obtained from a voter at a polling location, as well as motor vehicle registrations or any other records.

“We look at everything … if it’s the same slant, if the letters are the same size, if the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed the same way,” she said. “Those are the kinds of things we’re looking for.”

Most importantly, voters must sign the affidavit box on the back of the sealed envelope after the ballot has been inserted to ensure that it is ultimately counted, Alberico emphasized.

As of Tuesday, 8,307 completed ballots had been returned in Garfield County, either by mail or at one of the many ballot drop-off sites located throughout the county, according to Pam Bunn, elections supervisor for the county.

That represents a little over 30 percent of the ballots that have been distributed to registered Garfield County voters since Oct. 14.

A breakdown of that number by voter affiliation show that Republicans so far lead the way in ballots completed and returned, at 3,565, according to Bunn. As of Tuesday, 2,298 Democrats, 2,371 unaffiliated voters and 108 voters registered with a minor political party had returned their ballots, she said.

Recent elections in Garfield County conducted by mail ballot have resulted in well over 50 percent voter turnout, including a whopping 93 percent turnout among “active” registered voters in the 2012 presidential election year, and 68 percent that year when including “inactive” voters who were still on the voter rolls, according to county election records.

Alberico said that Tuesday was the last day voters could register or change their voter information and still receive a ballot by mail.

Voter registration and changes are still being accepted through Election Day at any of the designated Voter Service Centers in Garfield County, located at the county clerk’s offices in Glenwood Springs and Rifle and at the Department of Human Services building in Rifle, and on Election Day only at the Glenwood Springs Community Center.

It’s also too late to return a ballot by mail at this point and ensure that it will make it by Election Day, meaning voters should use one of the designated ballot drop-off locations scattered across the county.

Ballot drop-off locations at town halls in Carbondale, New Castle, Silt and Parachute, and at the three Voter Service Centers in Glenwood Springs and Rifle, will also be open Saturday to assist voters in casting their ballots before Election Day. Ballots must be received by 7 p.m. on Election Day.


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