Jon Keyser, a Republican candidate running for House District 25 in Jefferson County, reported receiving two ballots in the mail last week. He tweeted photos of them and suggested the state’s election system was unreliable. “C’mon Man! #FailedSystem,” he wrote. Unfortunately, Keyser shredded one of the ballots, so there’s no way to gauge whether the system failed or not.
“We got three ballots in the mail. I got two and my wife got one. I thought, That’s weird,” Keyser told the Colorado Independent. “So I took a picture and tweeted it and then shredded the ballot. Now, four days later, the story of my ballots is making news.”
Conservative blog Colorado Peak Politics posted Keyser’s photo and a piece that raised the specter just weeks before Election Day of widespread ballot-related security “violations.”
“Liberals and the media often are quick to dismiss the possibility of voter fraud, but Colorado’s new all-mail ballot system shows that there are gaps in the system,” the Peak Politics blog author wrote. “The lack of ballot security in Colorado elections stems from a bill passed last legislative session, HB13-1303. The bill required that mail ballots be sent to all registered voters, regardless of whether they are active…Who knows what other violations are out there?”
The Keyser ballot story is just the latest artifact of the battle waged mostly from the right against House Bill 1303, the sweeping election reform bill passed last session and embraced by the vast majority of county clerks in the state. The bill sought to modernize the state’s voting system and increase participation. Its most controversial provision required that ballots be mailed to all registered voters. Republicans in the legislature opposed it unanimously, suggesting it was a Democratic attempt to seal up election wins — they meant by expanding the franchise but they mostly talked about how Democrats were opening up the election system to fraud.
Jefferson County Clerk Pam Anderson, one of the many Republican clerks who supported the reform bill this year, called Keyser when she saw his tweet this weekend.
“We take this kind of thing very seriously,” she said. “It was clear to me that the bottom ballot in the photo was not a Jefferson County ballot. The label is different. The color is different. The indicia are different. It’s not one of ours…
“I asked if the ballot inside the envelopes were the same. He said he couldn’t remember and that he had destroyed the ballot.”
Anderson explained that in cases like this, it’s common for voters to be alarmed but, she said, there is often a very good explanation and it’s usually tied to the fact that voters can be eligible to vote in two elections — a state election but also a special-district tax election.
The Colorado Taxpayer Bill of Rights or TABOR requires any tax hike be put to voters to approve. That’s true of statewide tax proposals but also local proposals. Anderson said the look of Keyser’s second ballot suggests it was a special-district ballot asking Kesyer to weigh in on a tax hike.
“We have high-end equipment in Jefferson County. Our labels are over sprayed… small districts would use a stick-on label like that.”
She said that when she got hold of Keyser Tuesday night, she asked him if he owned any property outside of Jefferson County. He said he did. She said he could get a replacement ballot if it was in fact a special-district ballot he destroyed.
“He never said it was a duplicate ballot,” she said. “He may have thought it was at first. That’s something the media is running with, I think…
“Look, it’s charged out there and I get that. Elections matter and accidents happen. It’s a human process. But we see this as an educational opportunity. Special-district TABOR elections are pretty rare. Voters can be surprised by getting one of those ballots. This is an opportunity to say ‘Don’t be surprised. You may get two ballots. They’re not the same ballots.'”
Anderson, other county clerks and elections activists told the Independent that concerns over fraud raised by the Keyser ballots should be placed in context. Clerks have a variety of safeguards set in place to guard against anyone voting twice. Ballots are tagged with ID numbers that link them to voters. Once a ballot is cast by someone with the same name and address, no other ballot from that person, with the same name and address, can be counted. Variations in names and addresses are also tracked closely.
They add that voters sign affidavits that they will only vote once. Vote fraud is a felony. Any suspected double voting discovered by a clerk’s office is referred to a DA for investigation.
Elections are increasingly complex data-management operations but they’re also deeply politicized. Election administration has become a main battleground in the United States over the last few cycles. Democrats have passed laws lowering barriers to voting while Republican have passed laws raising identification standards and restricting registration and voting periods.
“This [experience] underscored the inefficiency of our election system,” Keyser said in a follow up text message to the Independent. “In the information age, why are we sending voters multiple ballots? This is yet another example of an opportunity to improve the efficiency of our government and save taxpayers money.”