Denver voters have been using mail ballots for years, and the ongoing attacks on mail ballots from the president and his allies are not grounded in fact. Mail ballots are a safe, secure solution that addresses many of the threats to our democracy, from the public health pandemic to foreign interference. There is no evidence that mail ballots (a.k.a. absentee ballots) are more subject to fraud than other methods of voting, and there is virtually no chance that a foreign government could manipulate an election outcome by printing and returning fake mail-in ballots.
First, a key component to a successful mail-ballot election is accurate voter rolls. One of the key provisions of Colorado’s 2013 election reform bill, HB-1303, allows us to use National Change of Address data to help keep our voter rolls up to date. States with mail ballots conduct thorough list maintenance of voter registration records to ensure they do not waste resources mailing ballots to bad addresses or ineligible voters. In Denver, that list maintenance is done nightly through automatic registration updates from the Department of Motor Vehicle. We also utilize Department of Public Health and Colorado Department of Corrections updates and a multistate partnership to ensure accurate voter registration rolls.
Second, mail balloting is more resilient to election threats than traditional in-person polling-place voting. All ballots, including ones cast on our accessible ballot-marking tablets, generate a voter-verifiable paper ballot, and safeguards in our election system make it impossible for fake ballots printed by any outside entity, including a foreign government, to be tabulated. In Colorado, we conduct rigorous risk-limiting audits that use statistical models to ensure the correct winner was declared. Mail ballots also are not subject to weather or other natural disaster disruptions like traditional Election Day voting. And, most importantly, voting a mail ballot at home does not put a voter’s life at risk during a public health crisis.
To further protect the integrity of the election in Colorado, we adhere to strict signature verification when processing cast ballots. Voters must sign their ballot affidavit every time they vote in Colorado, and every signature is verified by bipartisan teams of election judges. In Denver, we conduct thorough signature verification training with a former FBI forensic handwriting analyst to ensure our election judges are well trained.
Critics are right to point out that signature verification has the potential to disenfranchise voters, particularly those with changing or deteriorating signatures. In Colorado, if a voter’s signature is found discrepant, the voter has up to eight days after the election to fix the issue. And we make it as easy as possible by enabling voters to return their signature cure affidavit from a smart phone as opposed to having to return the affidavit in person.
In order to safely and securely implement a mail-ballot election, state and local election administrators need time and resources to develop procedures, invest in equipment, and train their personnel. And they need the support of lawmakers to ensure that legislative restrictions don’t impede the ability to safely and efficiently process mail ballots so that voters have time to vote them and so that election results can be reported in a timely way.
Rather than attack a voting model that has the potential to protect the right to vote for all eligible citizens, the president and members of Congress in both parties must join forces now to stop the misinformation about this important option, and to provide needed investments to ensure states and local election officials can safely add mail ballots to the menu of options for voters in November.
Paul D. López is clerk and recorder of the City and County of Denver.