Joe St. George

Joe St. George, formerly of Denver's Fox 31, is now the national political editor and Washington correspondent for the Scripps chain's 60 TV stations across country. Here, he questions President Trump on June 22, 2020.

Colorado isn’t the swing state it used to be, but the eyes of the nation are on us once again.

First it was the mountains, then it was the Broncos, then the pot. Now it's our mail ballots. Others envy us, especially at a time when voting in person could kill you with the coronavirus.

My old friend Joe St. George mixed it up with President Trump on the subject recently, as the president alleged they were ticking time bombs of mayhem and fraud, or something like that. 

“Respectfully, sir, I covered politics in Colorado for five years,” Joe told Trump. “I never did a story or heard your friend Sen. Cory Gardner say mail-in ballots are fraudulent.”

Joe departed Denver's Fox 31 a few months back to become the national political editor and Washington correspondent for the Scripps chain's 60 TV stations across the land. His full report is available by clicking here.

Coloradans have been voting predominantly by mail since a Democratic legislature pushed it through in 2013, joining four other states. Wisely implemented by two Republican secretaries of state, Scott Gessler and Wayne Williams, Colorado's elections became the envy of the nation, with soaring turnout, no breaches.

Joe asked Trump for evidence of high-country shenanigans.

“There are thousands of cases all over, thousands, and I don’t like the system,” the president said, then wandered. “I did pretty well in Colorado, could have won Colorado.”

Trump lost to Hillary Clinton by 5%, or 136,396 votes. 

Joe brought it back: “Do you blame mail ballots?”

“I can’t tell you what it is. I thought I would have won Colorado, frankly. I love Colorado. The people like me, and we have a lot of the similar values. We do a lot of economic development there …”

He went on, “It’s not good for Colorado, either. Did they find anything in Colorado? I can tell you this, there are thousands of cases …”

Trump alleges mail can be stolen, signatures can be forged and foreign countries can print ballots, all the same arguments I heard when I covered House Bill 1303 that authorized the current system in 2013. Republicans didn't like the idea then, and they don't like it now. The law changed without a single GOP vote.

Trump told Joe a story about a friend who received a ballot addressed to his dead son. “And that’s just one case.”

Bruce Benson, the retired University of Colorado president and well-known Republican, is another.

A week after he voted last month, he got a second ballot in the mail, which puzzled him and his wife, Marcy.

"We obviously didn't vote it, we kept it,” Marcy told me on the phone, with her husband nearby.

She went on to say, "I love the idea of voting by mail, if it works. This makes me wonder if it's safe."

The Denver Elections Division looked into it and found Benson had received a second ballot by mistake, because the Department of Revenue had forwarded a new or corrected address for him. If he or anyone else had voted, only the first verified signature would count.

The ballot has to go through a signature verification process, including the eyeballs of trained election judges. If someone doesn't get a ballot in the mail a few weeks out, they can request a new one or vote at an election center.

Mail ballots provide the luxury of time, even as it expands voter access. (Voter suppression is an Insights for another day.)

Paper ballots also leave a paper trail with a signature that can be reverified and recounted. To sway that system in a national election in thousands of locations would require a conspiracy of Roswell proportions. 

Is that safer than trusting a voting machine? It wasn't in Ohio in 2004.

That was the first presidential election after the debacle in south Florida in 2000, hanging chads and all. 

The newfangled machines from a company named Diebold turned in skewed numbers that human eyes quickly discovered, adding votes for George W. Bush, who had won a close national race four years earlier. Suspicions were high to begin with when an electronic voting machine added 3,893 votes to President Bush's tally in a precinct with 800 voters.

The year before that, 40,000 files of Diebold's software code made their way onto a publicly viewable website. 

Wally O'Dell, the company's CEO at the time, was a Republican fundraiser and member of George W. Bush's Rangers and Pioneers club of top donors. He left in 2005 under allegations of insider trading. 

Diebold a few years later was accused of bribery and falsifying documents involving deals with China, Indonesia and Russia. These middlemen of democracy eventually paid $50 million to settle criminal charges.

That was the first time behind the wheel of a national election in a transformative time. We're there again.

That's a legitimate concern. New states rushing into this don't have a Gessler or Williams to sort it out  not in three months' time. 

Perfection, though, is an imperative in a different age of skepticism. Any doubt will be gas on the fire of outrage by the loser. Any isolated mess-up will be YouTube fodder to drive conspiracies.

Failure in Florida and Ohio are matters of our nation's past. "Thousands of cases" is just something the president said.

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