Toussaint column: Don’t let your absentee ballot go AWOL
In the last election, 96 Garfield County mail-in ballots didn’t get counted because they arrived too late.
Any way you count it — or don’t — that’s a lot of lost votes.
Mailing a ballot seems like a simple thing. I’m registered, over 18, haven’t moved and I’m not in prison, so Colorado law considers me a legal voter. I don’t have to pass a literacy test. Or go on a hunger strike, as suffragettes did before the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote.
I don’t even need to worry about Russian trolls. Colorado doesn’t allow voting machines to be hooked to the internet, so Boris Badenov can’t tamper with my vote.
All I have to do is to slip that nice red-white-and-blue envelope into a mailbox. Easy peasy, right?
Wrong. That’s exactly where the trouble starts. Regional mail — not just in Carbondale, but also in Glenwood Springs, Silt and Rifle — is shuttled to Grand Junction for processing. Because that doesn’t happen overnight, way too many ballots go AWOL.
“In this area, if you don’t have your ballot in the mail at the Post Office on the Wednesday before the election, it might be too late,” warns Garfield County Clerk Jean Alberico. “Especially if you’re mailing it in Carbondale on the weekend.”
These days, an astonishing 76 percent of local voters get mail-in ballots. The county starts sending them out Oct. 15, and you have until Oct. 22 to contact the Garfield County Election Division at 970-384-3700 if you haven’t gotten yours. (Oct. 29 is the last day to register to vote.)
Under state law, ballots must be in polling boxes or in the hands of county clerks by 7 p.m. on election night to be counted. Postmarks count only for military or overseas ballots.
Starting Oct. 16, ballots can be dropped off at the Carbondale, New Castle, Silt and Parachute town halls.
“We have 24/7 ballot boxes, because we’ve just decided that’s what we need to do,” says Alberico. Early voting begins at additional Voter Service and Polling Centers in Rifle and Glenwood Springs on Oct. 22. Those centers are also open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on two Saturdays, Oct. 27 and Nov. 3.
Our civil servants then go to astonishing lengths to see that our ballots get to where they need to be: Some local postmasters will personally drive errant ballots (those that showed up at the right time but in the wrong place) to appropriate polling centers. Folks in county clerks’ offices will go the extra mile — or 50 — to see that Gunnison ballots delivered in Marble and/or Eagle County ballots delivered to Glenwood Springs wind up in the right spot at the right time.
What happens if you forget to sign your mailed-in ballot?
Election officials labor to fix that, too. They mail out letters giving forgetful voters eight days to “cure” their ballots by mailing, or bringing in, missing signatures. There’s even a second chance in case of dispute.
Midterm elections are often sleepers, but with some 60 seats up for grabs in the U.S. House and a dozen in the Senate, this one is a referendum on the current administration. It could determine the fate of abortion rights and steer issues like immigration, education, taxes and labor rights for years to come.
In Colorado, Democrats hold a 36-29 House majority. Republicans are hanging onto a razor-thin 18-17 majority in the Senate. Pundits think the Senate race is a toss-up, and fundraisers are predicting a blue wave.
All of which is to say that your vote counts a lot — assuming you get it counted.
Alberico’s expert advice? “If you want your vote counted you do actually have to vote,” she laughs. “Complete the ballot once you finish marking it. Put it in its cover and sign it. And you don’t need to wait until 3 p.m. Election Day to drop your ballot.”
If you do blow your mailing deadline, you can still vote in person at any Garfield County Voter Service and Polling Center; you don’t have to go a specific one. They’re all listed on your ballot’s secrecy sleeve and open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day.
Who knows, you might even meet this columnist. I have volunteered to be an election judge. It’s a bit of a tedious job — at least it was when I did it years ago in California — but it’s important enough for slug-about, retired me to attend three days of training and get up at oh-dark-early on Election Day to count votes. That’s how important your vote is to me.
So, make it count, OK?
Nicolette Toussaint lives in Carbondale. Her column appears monthly.
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