Secretary of State Wayne Williams helped two county clerks on Wednesday celebrate the opening of ballot drop boxes in their communities, saying it’s another step in making it easier for Coloradans to vote.
Voters in Bent County received their ballots on Tuesday and Clerk Patti Nickell was tickled to see 12 ballots in the box by Wednesday morning. Bent County Commissioner Bill Long admitted that at first he couldn’t see why Nickell was so intent on getting the box until Williams explained that voters love the service because they can drop off their ballots after work or on a Sunday.
“We hope to have another box next year in in the east end of the county, at McClave,” Nickell said. “I’m so glad Wayne is pushing this.”
Nickell said another 16 ballots were in the box Thursday morning.
Pueblo County on Wednesday celebrated the opening of its fourth round-the-clock ballot drop box, at the Patrick A. Lucero Library on the city’s eastside.
“What the heck is this?” a young boy called out when he spied the big white metal box covered with decals. “This is for Pueblo?” another asked. And a third wanted to know whether Williams was supporting Republican Donald Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton for president.
Library manager Diann Logie said two people had tried to drop off ballots that morning but were informed it would open later in the afternoon.
“This is so important for the east side,” she said, referring to an area of Pueblo that struggles economically.
Pueblo County Clerk Bo Ortiz said the county’s other drop boxes are located outside the clerk’s office, the entrance to the Colorado State Fair and in Pueblo West.
“Pueblo County is really proud we could partner with the secretary of state’s office” in getting the fourth box, Ortiz said. “Being able to walk or ride your bike to drop off a ballot at a central location is so important for this neighborhood.”
Williams tried to get the 2016 legislature to fund drop boxes but the measure failed. He believed the 24-hour service was so crucial that he found federal money to provide grants to the clerks. The smaller counties get a 90 percent reimbursement; the larger counties 80 percent. The costs of the boxes, including security cameras, vary but Ortiz said his bill will probably be around $4,000.
“I think its important that everyone has the ability to make sure their ballots are counted,” the secretary said. “By having 24-hour boxes, we make it easier for Coloradans to vote.”
One reason Williams is so insistent on the boxes is because of a 2014 District Court ruling that says clerks may not count ballots that arrive after 7 p.m. on Election Day. The case was brought by a sheriff’s candidate in Conejos County who lost the primary by 17 votes. He wanted the clerk to open the 67 ballots that arrived in the mail the next day because some were postmarked before the election.
Denver Elections was a pioneer in the use of 24-hour ballot boxes, and other counties followed suit. Under secretary of state rules, the boxes must be monitored by surveillance cameras with the data being preserved for 25 months. It is illegal to drop off more than 10 ballots at a time, and the outside of the envelopes must be signed by the voter in order to be counted. A bipartisan team of judges regularly picks up the ballots and logs them in.
Some counties share their boxes with other offices, such as the assessor, and use them for municipal or other elections.