Clerks to voters: Bring a sack lunch to the polls

(Photo/mystereys, Flickr)
(Photo/mystereys, Flickr)

Clerks in several of Colorado’s closely watched swing counties are continuing to sound the alert: Would-be voters this year should not expect to just slip in and out of the polls on Election Day, thanks to expected record turnouts — and an extraordinarily long Colorado ballot, the longest in 96 years and the longest of any in the country.

“We’re telling people that if they’re planning to vote on Election Day they had better bring a sack lunch with them,” said Scott Doyle, the Larimer County clerk and recorder. “With the length of this year’s ballot and the number of people who we anticipate will vote, there are going to be long lines at the Vote Centers in Larimer County.”

Steve Moreno, the clerk in Weld County, agreed.

“We do expect there will be some long lines at polling places in Weld County simply because of the length of the ballot,” Moreno said. “We’re doing what we can to prepare for it, though, and have been actively trying to get people to take advantage of early voting and mail ballots.”

Long lines at polling places caused some frustrated voters to walk away before being able to cast their ballot in Denver two years ago when an estimated 20,000 people either didn’t come to the polls because of news that lines were hours-long or just gave up while waiting in line.

But this year, with Colorado on the battleground states map, every vote really counts.

Early voting
Many Colorado residents learned long ago the value of early voting. In 2006, more than half of the state’s ballots were cast through early voting or by absentee ballot through the mail — a trend clerks said they hope will continue this year.

“In 2004, we had two early voting sites and had 10,000 people use them. This year we have added three new sites and are expecting that we could have 20,000 voters processed through them before the election,” Moreno said. “We have sent out mailers to voters explaining the early voting options, have promoted mail balloting and have placed (announcements) in the local media as well. We want people to know what the situation is.”

Moreno isn’t alone.

In Arapahoe County, another highly competitive county, Clerk Nancy Doty said she is expecting a 95 percent voter turnout this year — up from 93 percent in 2004. Anticipating long lines on Election Day, Doty said she has increased the number of voting machines countywide by 100 and has employed an aggressive PR campaign hoping to convince residents to vote early.

“I sent out mailings early because I knew that it was going to be a long ballot this year,” Doty said. “Voters have also been getting information from the campaigns and other get-out-the-vote operations. There is no doubt that the voters in Arapahoe have been bombarded with this information and they are taking advantage of it.”

Taking advantage of it they are. Doty said her office has received more than 170,000 requests for absentee ballots this year, or 65 percent of the entire electorate. In 2004 only 86,000 Arapahoe County voters requested mail ballots.

Voters in Larimer County are also requesting absentee ballots at a record rate, County Clerk Doyle said, adding that his office has increased the number of voting machines from 2006 and the number of Voting Centers residents can use, including a major expansion of the number of the machines available on the campus of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, where many students and community members are expected to vote.

“We’ve never had numbers like this,” Doyle said. “We have had over 90,000 mail ballots requested and each day that passes we get more. It’s going to be quite an election.”

Tweaking the system
Ensuring that every eligible voter who wants to cast a ballot does so has been made harder for the county clerks this year by what seemed at times to be a never-ending feud between clerks and the Colorado Secretary of State’s office over what could be considered a certified voting machine. The Legislature got involved to help solve the problem, but for many, like Moreno in Weld County, it was too late.

“We had planned on buying many more voting machines to deploy across the county, but because of the controversy over the certification process … the (commissioners) and I decided it was not a good idea to invest another $500,000 in machines that might not be available for use,” Moreno said. “We have been able to rent an additional 40 machines from a neighboring county, so we’re hopeful that will help speed lines up on Election Day.”

Doyle put it another way.

“The recertification, decertification and then certification of the machines (by the secretary of state) has gotten us to the point where we don’t know what to expect,” he said. “The Legislature has been doing a lot as well with some of its efforts being good and some that have not been not been good. I am afraid that if the Legislature and the state keep fixing this they are going to fix it to the point of being fixed, if you get my drift.”

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