Senior La Plata County election official explains what happens to ballots after they are cast – The Durango Herald

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Multiple levels of judges oversee the process, from transporting ballots to verifying signatures

Election judges Lisa Self, left, and Donna Burr review ballots on Thursday that were received at the La Plata County Clerk and Recorder Office. (Jerry McBride / Durango Herald)

Election security is on the minds of many American voters these days. The 2020 general election was plagued by unfounded accusations of electoral or electoral fraud. Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters is under investigation for leaking voting equipment passwords on social media.

But elections in La Plata County have a 100% record in post-election audits, said Clerk and Secretary Tiffany Lee. The audit that Colorado’s election goes through is called a “limited risk audit,” Lee said, and the process involves the county’s record of votes cast going to the secretary of state’s office.

“Every lot, every ballot is identified on a huge, fully electronic spreadsheet, powered by our Dominion software,” Lee said.

The software itself is separate from the county network and does not have wireless capabilities, making it inaccessible to third parties, hackers, and others who should not be able to access the software.

“It (the software) has the record of votes cast, so it says it’s a particular ballot and that’s how it was voted,” Lee said. “The state is drawing lots. … They’ll say at random, “I want you to take this container, these ballots, and do a manual audit. “

Election judges review the ballots on Thursday at the La Plata County Clerk and Recorder Office. (Jerry McBride / Durango Herald)

A manual audit involves the two major parties, therefore the Republican and Democratic parties. A canvas board appointed by the two major parties manually draws a set of ballots as directed by the secretary of state’s office and revokes those ballots in a separate set of software that the secretary of state uses.

“The Secretary of State knows what the election results should look like. So they (the canvassers) threw it in and it has to match perfectly, ”Lee said.

All 64 counties in Colorado simultaneously conduct the limited risk audit, Lee said. If an initial audit fails, i.e. there is a discrepancy between the ballots collected and the record of votes cast by the Secretary of State, a second audit is performed.

“If a county has a discrepancy, it is usually because an electoral judge has drawn the wrong ballot or entered the ballot incorrectly, or the voter’s intention has been made ( interpreted) differently between the machine and what the electoral judge said during the audit, ”Lee mentioned.

Lee said she believes limited risk auditing is the best election audit method available in the United States. She said other states are also looking to implement this audit method for themselves in future elections.

Processing ballots is a bipartisan effort

Ballots make their way through a careful and well-documented counting process on Thursday at the La Plata County Clerk and Recorder Office. (Jerry McBride / Durango Herald)

Everything about the processing of ballots is done in a bipartisan fashion, Lee said. A Republican can be associated with a Democrat, or a Democrat can be associated with an Independent or any combination, but ballots are always treated with bipartisan care.

“When we transport the ballots, it’s through bipartisan teams,” Lee said. “Everything they do, they have to do with opposing parties.”

The first stop for ballots that are mailed or transported from an official county drop box is the staging room. A “lot” refers to a collection of ballots collected at one time.

The ballot envelopes are fed into a machine that photographs them, dates them and reads a barcode on the envelopes to capture voter information. The photograph is cropped to display the voter verification signature that the election judges compare with that voter’s registration record to confirm that the signature is valid.

The La Plata County Clerk and Recorder Office worked with Runbeck Elections Services to develop the dosing machine, Lee said. Runbeck is in its third prototype and is making small models for offices the size of La Plata County as well as larger machines for counties with larger electoral bases. Machines are also more precise than people who always present a risk of human error.

“They’re sold all over the United States, and it’s really cool to be a part of this technology,” Lee said. “It really helped us to eliminate a lot of manual work that took us a long time. “

The model used by La Plata County costs around $ 40,000, but La Plata County received its machine at a reduced price because it aided development by providing feedback on end-user features.

An electoral judge must be able to find three matching signatures in a voter registration file for the ballot to be considered valid. Whenever an electoral judge notices a difference in signature, he must consult the electoral judge of the opposing party in the batching room.

La Plata County Clerk and Recorder Tiffany Lee explains the signature verification process as election judges Tonya McKnight, left, and Jill Patton look at signed ballots on Thursday at the clerk’s office and the La Plata County Recorder. (Jerry McBride / Durango Herald)

If both judges agree that the signatures do not match, the ballot is not counted at that time – but there is still time for the voter who submitted it to authenticate the ballot. It happens in what’s called a healing process, said Lee, which takes place for eight days after an election.

Voters must confirm that they have submitted a rejected ballot and provide identification for that ballot to be “processed” and counted. Unsigned voting envelopes are also tracked throughout the processing process.

Voters are contacted through a mailed affidavit for the healing process. The affidavit asks whether an elector voted with the ballot in question or not. If a voter does not respond, Lee submits a case to the district attorney for follow-up.

The district attorney will contact the voter by mail and if that voter still does not respond, the attorney will come to the voter ‘s home to inquire about what is happening with the ballot in question.

La Plata County Clerk and Clerk Tiffany Lee, left, watches adjudication and duplication election judges Marian Hamlin and Susan Voorhees review the ballots at the clerk’s office Thursday. (Jerry McBride / Durango Herald)

If the election judges cannot agree that a ballot signature matches what is recorded, that ballot is automatically rejected.

“Republicans and Democrats need to figure that out,” Lee said. “I cannot determine this. They (the bipartisan election judges) have to do it.

Lee said only 36 of 7,000 ballots were rejected on Wednesday, just six days before the Nov. 2 election. The rejection rate is not high, Lee said.

“You’ll see more of it in a general election, obviously, because the turnout is higher, but it’s still a very, very small percentage.”

Ballots are kept face down so that the decisions of individual voters are not known to election judges.

A poster thanking the Election Judges from the Boys & Girls Club of La Plata hangs on the wall Thursday at the La Plata County Clerk and Recorder Office. (Jerry McBride / Durango Herald)

Envelopes containing more than one ballot result in the rejection of all those ballots, Lee said, because each ballot must be accompanied by a voter signature on the envelope in which it was delivered. .

The recount judge reconfirms the number of ballots in a batch before entering them into the tabulator.

Once the ballots have been opened by the envelope opening judges, the ballots are recounted and then compiled in batches of 50. Everything, from this process, is done in batches of 50 to keep everything organized and for simplify the audit process, Lee said.

The vote tabulator looks like a large printer / scanner. It scans each image, counts the votes and adds the date, time and machine number, as well as the lot and ballot number to each ballot.

“It’s all on camera,” Lee said. “I have secure jamming pads for each door and only specific people can enter each.”

Lee said that at night every room in the electoral unit is locked and sealed with padlock locking mechanisms.

“This keyboard (scrambling block) scrambles the numbers every time,” Lee said. “And then we each have our own unique codes. I can track and run reports to see who is accessing (the rooms). ”

Lee is so confident in La Plata County’s election security that she invited members of the public in September to visit the clerk and recorder office and watch the ballot counting process unfold as it progresses. and as it unfolds. So far, only one visitor has accepted her on the invitation, Lee said, but he left feeling reassured that his vote would be safe and fairly counted with La Plata County.

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