Postal Official: DEC Bungling Special Election

The Denver Election Commission failed to coordinate with the U.S. Postal Service when it mailed ballots for the Jan. 30 special election, USPS district manager Dean Granholm said Monday in a letter addressed to Secretary of State Mike Coffman.

Granholm said the DEC’s lack of compliance with USPS guidelines resulted in address problems, added work for postal employees and an extra $22,500 in costs for the city. The DEC’s blunders in the Nov. 7 election resulted in the current special election being called. Voters are being asked if the DEC should be replaced by a clerk and recorder.

An all-mail election demands that the Postal Service and election offices work together, but officials in Denver would not cooperate, Granholm said.

“Unfortunately, Denver City and County did not provide communication needed to achieve success,” the letter said. “They did not send any information regarding the date of the election, volume of the mailing, the design of the absentee ballot envelopes, the final packet, or the actual date of mailing until it was too late to make any needed changes.”

Deputy Secretary of State William Hobbs sent Granholm’s letter to DEC Executive Director John Gaydeski along with some words of his own.

“While this office has no formal authority over the conduct of the Jan. 30th election,” Hobbs wrote, “We are deeply concerned that the problems identified by Mr. Granholm regarding this special election may be repeated in future elections concerning statewide issues.”

One problem outlined by Granholm involves the much-maligned Sequoia Voting Systems, which the DEC once again hired as its ballot and envelope vendor. Sequoia submitted a sample ballot envelope to the Postal Service for evaluation on Dec. 27. At that point, the agency was under the impression the election would take place in March. When the postal analyst told Sequoia the envelope was non-compliant and could not be processed by automated machines, Sequoia claimed it was too late to change the design. Forcing the post office to hand-sort the ballots cost the city an extra $11,500.

“The failure of this mailing to be handled through normal automated processes required the Postal Service to expend a lot of extra time and effort,” Granholm said.

It was not until Jan. 12, the day the ballots were mailed, that his agency learned the envelopes had already been printed at the time of evaluation, Granholm said.

He slammed Sequoia for its practices.

“For the record, Sequoia is a low-cost, low-quality, out-of-state election mail vendor. Our locally documented cases over the last two years show that every mailing prepared by Sequoia had mail design, sortation or preparation issues, regardless of the amount of prework and information the Postal Service provided them.” 

The DEC didn’t heed the USPS’ advice when addressing the envelopes, either, Granholm said. His agency asked county election offices to update voter addresses by running their lists through the National Change of Address database. Arapahoe County did so and reduced its amount of undeliverable mail. Denver County did not.

“Due the poor addressing, as of Wednesday, January 17, more than 17,600 absentee ballots had been returned that were undeliverable as addressed,” Granholm said. “This, so far, has resulted in a separate additional cost of over $11,000 to the City and County of Denver.”

Granholm said the Colorado/Wyoming District USPS hosted nine teleconferences to help election officials understand mail balloting procedures. Nobody from Denver ever participated. A Denver representative was present, however, during three out of six USPS presentations at County Clerk Association meetings.

“It is in the best interest for both the Secretary of State and the United States Postal Service to work through and resolve issues and concerns that are hindering a successful election process,” Granholm said.

The Secretary of State’s office also forwarded the letter to Denver City Councilwoman Rosemary Rodriguez. Along with City Auditor Dennis Gallagher, Rodriguez was a major force behind calling a special election this month. She has been a strong advocate for scrapping the DEC in favor of an elected clerk and recorder.  Opponents to the measure say management, not structural, changes are needed at the DEC.

Granholm’s complaint comes at a time when officials are considering moving the entire state to all-mail elections.

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