Secretary of State Wayne Williams told county clerks this week that the state will help pay for ballot drop boxes to make it easier for their residents to vote.
The boxes allow voters to drop off their ballots 24 hours a day, including after hours and at locations other than just the clerks’ offices. Elbert County, for example, has a box inside the local Walmart.
“We really don’t want to be in a situation where somebody doesn’t get their vote counted because they didn’t have access to a ballot drop box and they weren’t able to drop by the time period that you’re open during business hours,” Williams said.
He also advised election officials attending the Colorado County Clerks Association summer conference this week in the metro area to be ready for a deluge of last-minute voters Nov. 8. Williams pointed to presidential primaries in Maricopa County, Arizona, and New Hampshire, where the volume of voters overwhelmed election officials.
“If you wake up (on Election Day) and everybody is in a line outside one of your offices and if you only have one site, what’s your plan to handle those issues?” Williams asked.
In fact, when Arapahoe County Clerk Matt Crane opened the CCCA conference Monday morning, he got a laugh when he prayed for “no lines and wide margins” on election night.
As for the drop boxes, Williams said they have become more important as postal delivery schedules have changed. Mailed ballots from most voters go to a postal processing center in Denver, and then are sent back to the clerks’ office. The clerks must receive the ballots by 7 p.m. Election Day in order for them to be tallied.
Williams said some postmasters and postmistresses have taken “extraordinary” measures to make sure the clerks in their jurisdictions receive their ballots in a timely manner, but problems have occurred, which is why drop boxes, which are emptied daily by clerk staffers, are so important.
The Secretary of State’s Office is funding 90 percent of the cost of installing drop boxes for smaller counties, and 80 percent for larger counties. The money is coming from federal Help America Vote Act funds channeled to Colorado.
“Folks, this is a great opportunity,” Williams said. “If you got one now that you funded as a county, you can use this to fund a second one, which might be in a different part of the county. A lot of you have large geographical areas and we want to make it easy for your voters to return their ballots.”
It costs an average of $4,000 to install a ballot drop box. That includes surveillance cameras that must be in operation 24 hours a day.
Crane last year noted that Arapahoe County has 15, 24-hour boxes in the county and about 26-ballot drop-off locations, typically in buildings with regular office hours. In addition, Arapahoe and Adams counties share drop boxes in Aurora and Strasburg.
“Our office receives all ballots from the Aurora box, separates out the Adams ballots, and return them to Adams County. They do the same for us with the ballots in Strasburg,” he said. “This has been a great partnership that has allowed both counties to save money and provide better service for our citizens.”