[Image courtesy of Denver Elections via Twitter]
Yesterday, the city and county of Denver, CO held an election at which the incumbent mayor was re-elected and other city offices were decided. But the races on the ballot weren’t the only topic of interest; Denver Elections and its vendor Dominion Voting co-hosted a two-day event with attendees from across the nation to see first hand how Denver – and Colorado – are rethinking how voters receive and return ballots.
The system, which Denver’s Amber McReynolds calls “ballot delivery” but is also known nationally as the “Colorado model”, flips the traditional approach to bringing voters and ballots together. In a traditional system, voters have two choices:
- come to the ballot – at precincts, early voting stations or vote centers – and make their choices there; or
- have the ballot mailed to them and return it the same way.
As I’ve detailed on this blog, both approaches have challenges that election officials constantly seek to overcome; polling places may not be convenient or accessible to voters, and vote-by-mail can increase the risk of otherwise valid votes being rejected because they are late or have other problems like missing or invalid signatures.
The Colorado model takes parts of both approaches and incorporates them into a single, more flexible whole. There, every registered voter is mailed a ballot (hence the term “ballot delivery”) – but then they have a variety of choices for returning a cast ballot: by mail, in person at a vote center or at one of many drop boxes jurisdiction wide.
For voters, this affords a degree of choice that enables them to tailor their voting experience to their particular needs. For election offices, it allows them to reduce the number of polling places – which also allows for fewer and better trained pollworkers – while focusing more resources on ensuring that mail return and drop boxes work for the community. In Denver, the change has allowed the election office to deploy its BallotTRACE system, which provides FedEx-like ballot tracking so that a voter always knows where her ballot is.
Denver’s system is of keen interest to officials nationwide, including California’s Secretary of State Alex Padilla who attended the event and kept up a steady Twitter stream throughout. For their part, Denver claims that the new approach has allowed them cut costs dramatically and not only focus the savings on other programs but actually return them to the city – another point that could be a selling point to election officials and policymakers across the country.
Just like any innovation, the Colorado ballot delivery model may not work everywhere – but for now, it appears to be working well in the Mile High City. Don’t be surprised if this innovation, even more than Oregon’s “new motor voter”, starts to catch on elsewhere very soon.