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Life Cycle of a Ballot


 

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Infographic: Life Cycle of a Ballot

 

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Certification of candidates and issues

Any candidate or issue that is to appear on a ballot must have paperwork filed with the County Clerk and Recorder or Secretary of State, depending on the office that is being sought. This includes a petition that must be signed by a certain number of eligible voters to qualify the candidate for participation in the election. Petitions may also be circulated to place special issues on the ballot.

All submitted signatures must be verified against the Colorado voter registration database (SCORE). If enough signatures are verified to qualify the candidate or issue for an election, the petition is deemed “sufficient” and the candidate/issue is referred to the ballot.

Software programming

Critical election information is input into various software programs. First, the specifics of the election—including offices up for election, candidates for those offices, office boundaries, and eligible electors—are programmed into the SCORE system. This system is used by all Colorado counties to maintain a single list of Colorado’s registered voters as well as to assist in administering elections.

The Denver Elections Division then uploads the information contained in SCORE into software called EED (Election Event Designer), used to lay out the design of the ballot.

A file is exported from EED and imported into a ballot tallying software program called ICC, or Image Cast Central. This program is used to collect election results from each individual counting machine and produce a single cumulative tally.

Ballot design

The content of the ballot (which races appear and the order in which they appear) is dictated by federal, state, and local laws. In the City and County of Denver, all ballots must be produced in both English and Spanish.

Ballot design is the layout of the ballot content and is dependent upon the judgment of the local election office running the election. For enhanced clarity and simplicity, the Denver Elections Division uses best practices established at the national level by experts in ballot readability.

Proper ballot design also involves accurate data entry and proofing of the content. This process is highly complex because it involves data entry of multiple candidates and races on a large number of ballot faces.

Because there are 346 precincts in the City and County of Denver, there are 346 different ballot faces for a general election. For primary elections, each party has a different ballot face in each precinct. Thus, any precinct may have up to four ballot faces and the county as whole may have as many as 1,029 ballot faces. Each of these ballot faces must be accurately proofed before ballot production can begin.

In addition to the design of paper ballots, electronic ballots must also be designed, produced, and proofed to be used on electronic voting machines. Electronic voting machines also contain audio ballots that must be recorded onto the machines.

Equipment testing

Prior to and after every election, the equipment used to record, tabulate, and report votes must be tested according to state laws and regulations.

The Hardware Diagnostic test is performed to verify that mechanical components of each electronic voting device are working correctly. After the successful completion of the test for each device, the devices are sealed. Documentation of the sealed information and all testing records for each device are maintained by the Denver Elections Division.

The Logic and Accuracy Test is a documented review of the Elections Division’s ability to produce accurate results of voter choices. It is performed by staff and an appointed testing board consisting of at least one representative from each major political party, and it is open to the public and media.

For this test, staff prepare a test deck of ballots that includes every ballot style and a voted position for every candidate on every race, including write-in candidates, overvotes, and undervotes. This deck is run through high speed ballot scanners, and results are compared to a hand tally. The test board signs a Public Logic and Accuracy Testing Certification document verifying that all required testing was completed in a satisfactory manner.

After Election Day, a post-election audit takes place when the Secretary of State randomly selects which election machinery is to be audited. The machinery selected includes five percent of the ballot marking devices and at least one of the high speed ballot scanners. A report is generated, and the ballots are hand-tallied and compared to the report.

Ballot production

Production includes both the printing of ballots and the insertion of those ballots into mail ballot packets. Ballots are printed using strict requirements from the Elections Division, such as proper paper weight and registration of the ballot image on the paper. With such strict requirements, only certain certified printers are able to produce ballots in Denver.

Once printed, ballots are inserted into a generic ballot packet, then the individual voter’s name and barcode are imprinted onto the outside envelope. This process is complex and requires precise use of computer generated databases and insertion machinery, as every voter must be sent a ballot that corresponds to their correct precinct and ballot face.

BallotTRACE

The Denver Elections Division's BallotTRACE (Ballot Tracking, Reporting, and Communications Engine) allows Denver voters to track mail ballots from the printer to the mail facility and back to the elections office. Voters can choose to receive notifications by email or text message about the status of their ballot. 

Ballot Delivery to USPS

Denver Elections sends ballots to voters through the United States Postal Service. Ballots are sent between 22 and 18 days before Election Day and are automatically sent to all voters designated by Colorado election law as "active" voters.

Once printed, ballots are packaged in trays and on pallets. These packages are then weighed by USPS representatives on location at the printer. The ballots are then transferred in secured trucks to the General Mail Facility in Denver. Once the ballot shipment arrives, the postal inspector and representatives from the Denver Elections Division are present to inspect the shipment to ensure the correct quantity. The mail ballots are scanned into the post office's mail tracking system and sorted into routes for delivery to Denver voters.

Ballots to voters

Ballots are delivered to voters via USPS carriers. Voters are encouraged to visit GoVoteColorado.gov to make sure their address is current. The deadline to make changes to a voter record and have a ballot delivered by mail is eight days before Election Day. After that, a voter may visit any Voter Service and Polling Center to vote in person or obtain a mail ballot.

Return of ballots to Elections Division

Voted ballots may be returned through USPS or any other delivery service a voter might choose. To return a voted ballot by mail, the voter should affix the correct amount of postage. However, the Denver Elections Division will not refuse ballots that do not have the proper postage affixed. Once the post office receives a voted ballot, it is scanned into the USPS mail tracking system and delivered in bulk to the Denver Elections Division on a daily basis.

Alternatively, a voter may return a ballot by dropping it off in person or having another person deliver it for them to any ballot drop-off location or Voter Service and Polling Center (VSPC). The Denver Elections Division has 37 24-hour ballot drop-off boxes available throughout the city. Drive-up ballot drop-offs are also provided outside all VSPCs. Colorado law restricts any one person from dropping off more than 10 ballots in an election. Voting site locations can be found by visiting DenverVotes.org/voterinfo.

All voted ballots must be in the possession of the Denver Elections Division by 7 p.m. on Election Day in order to be counted.

VSPC operations

Voter Service and Polling Centers (VSPCs) are opened 8-15 days prior to Election Day depending on the type of election. Services include:

  •        Replacement ballots
  •        In-person paper and in-person accessible machine voting
  •        Ability to make an address change
  •        Ability to register to vote
  •        Return a voted mail ballot

All activities in ballot processing rooms can be witnessed by the public. For security, all rooms are card-keyed and video-monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Every election worker in ballot processing rooms must wear a coordinating vest, identification badge, and party affiliation button.

Ballot receiving

Mail ballots are delivered to the Denver Elections Division by USPS and by Elections Division staff from drop boxes located throughout the City. 

In this room, ballot boxes and mail trays are weighed and logged into the Elections Division’s ballot tracking system to record where and when voters have delivered their ballots. Ballots are then transferred by a ballot security team to the Signature Verification Room. Out-of-county ballots are time-stamped and sent back to the appropriate county. 

Verification

Workers in this room are trained by a Certified Document Examiner. Ballots are run through the Bell and Howell Elevate Criterion machine, which date- and time-stamps the ballot, removes the secrecy tab, compares the barcode on the envelope to data from the voter registration database, and captures the signature image of all eligible voter signatures. Signatures are reviewed by bipartisan election judges.

If the signature matches, the ballot is accepted and the voter’s record is updated to show that a ballot was verified. If the signature does not match, a bipartisan team of two compares signatures. Accepted ballots are sent to the Ballot Preparation Room. Voters with rejected ballots due to non-matching or missing signatures are sent a Signature Affidavit Form and must also submit a copy of acceptable identification.

Preparation

Ballots from the Signature Verification Room are delivered to the Ballot Preparation Room by a bipartisan ballot security team. In this room, batches of ballots are logged into the Elections Division’s ballot tracking system. Ballots are removed from envelopes with a high speed envelope opener/extractor, then a bipartisan team works together to remove any stray tabs left on the ballot, flatten out the folds in the ballot, and place the ballots in a ballot transfer case.

Counting and adjudication

Ballots from the Ballot Preparation Room are delivered to the Ballot Counting Room by a ballot security team. In this room, election judges receive ballot transfer cases and log them into the Elections Division’s ballot tracking system. A unique number is imprinted onto every ballot card to determine the number of ballots in each batch, then an election judge processes ballots through high speed scanners.

The scanners read the marks on the ballots that indicate a voter’s choice for candidates and issues, then pass the results to a tabulation computer. Ballots that are successfully scanned are sealed in a ballot transfer case, logged into the ballot tracking system, and are sent to the Ballot Storage Room where they will remain for 25 months before being destroyed.

In the rare instance that a scanner cannot read a damaged ballot, a bipartisan ballot resolution team examines the ballot and sends it to the ballot duplication team, who examines the damaged ballot to determine voter intent, then correctly makes a duplicate by marking a blank ballot. The teams keep a journal with important information about each ballot that is duplicated. All original and duplicated ballots are numbered the same so that they can be identified at a later time if necessary. Duplicated ballots are returned to the Ballot Counting Room. The damaged ballots are sealed in a ballot transfer case and sent to the Ballot Storage Room.

If a ballot has improper marks, over/under votes, or the voter intent is not clear, then the ballot is sent electronically to an adjudication team, a bipartisan team of two election judges that review the ballot and determine voter intent based on a Voter Intent Guide provided by the Secretary of State. The team marks the ballot digitally and a log of their decisions is attached to the ballot. 

Tabulation

Ballot tabulation takes place on a tabulation computer located in the Ballot Counting Room. Tabulation is accomplished by collecting scanned vote results from high speed ballot scanners and paper ballots from ballot marking devices. The results are sent to the ballot tabulation computer through an isolated secure network that has no ties to any other network or the internet.

The computer collects and compiles all results using Results Tally Reporting (RTR). From this system, results are printed and downloaded to an external drive so that they can be uploaded to the Elections Division’s website.

Publication of unofficial results

On Election Night, unofficial election results are posted at the Elections Division and on its website (www.denvervotes.org), beginning at 7 p.m. and are updated every 1.5 hours until counting is completed. These unofficial results are also provided to media organizations.

Post-election activities

After Election Day, various post-election activities occur prior to the official canvass of election and certification of results. These include: processing provisional ballots, reconciling forms used at Voter Service and Polling Centers, sending and receiving signature discrepancy letters, sending and receiving identification letters, assisting voters who come into the office to sign their ballots, and processing ballots received within eight days of the election from overseas electors.

Risk-limiting audit

A risk-limiting audit uses statistical analysis to allow election officials to review a few of all ballots cast in an election to double-check outcomes. Risk-limiting audits are required for all Colorado elections. These audits use a random number seed and a computer algorithm to select random ballots to check against tabulation software results. This ensures strong statistical confidence in election outcomes.

Canvass of election and certification of results

The canvass of an election is the process by which the unofficial results are thoroughly examined and certified. The canvass is conducted by the Denver Canvass Board, which consists of one or more appointees from the two major political parties and the Denver Clerk and Recorder or designee. The Canvass Board reconciles the ballots cast in an election to confirm that the number of ballots counted in that election does not exceed the number of ballots cast in that election. The board also reconciles the ballots cast in each precinct to confirm that the number of ballots cast does not exceed the number of registered electors in the precinct.

The Canvass Board inspects documents that have been produced by the Elections Division and presented to the board during a meeting conducted approximately two weeks after the election. However, the Canvass Board can examine any election documents it desires and may be present to inspect any pre- or post-election activities.

No later than the thirteenth day after a primary election or the seventeenth day after any other election, the Canvass Board certifies the abstract of votes cast and transmits the certification of election results to the Secretary of State, the City and County of Denver, and any other political subdivisions involved in the election.

 
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200 W. 14th Ave #100
Denver, CO 80204
Hours: 8 a.m. - 5 p.m.

 

Denver Elections Division

Call: 303-653-9668
Text: 56003
elections@denvergov.org
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