Republican, Democratic officials agree: Arapahoe County elections are safe

Party chairs say voters can cast ballots with confidence

David Gilbert
dgilbert@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 9/19/20

Arapahoe County's Republican and Democratic party chairs both expressed confidence in the county's election security process, and said voters can trust their ballots will be counted. Both Dorothy …

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Republican, Democratic officials agree: Arapahoe County elections are safe

Party chairs say voters can cast ballots with confidence

Posted

Arapahoe County's Republican and Democratic party chairs both expressed confidence in the county's election security process, and said voters can trust their ballots will be counted.

Both Dorothy Gotlieb, who chairs the Arapahoe County Republican Party, and Kristin Mallory, the chair of the Arapahoe County Democratic Party, said they stay in close contact with county elections director Peg Perl and are confident the election will be handled fairly.

Read: 'In Arapahoe County, multiple security levels safeguard ballots'

Gotlieb said voters can safely vote by mail, by dropping off their ballots in drop boxes, or voting in-person.

“We have ballot boxes with 24-hour security, and bipartisan election judges and ballot picker-uppers,” Gotlieb said. “Every question I've asked has been responded to in a positive way.”

Colorado's mail voting system, which has been in place since 2013, is a national model, she said.

“Elections officials from around the country call to ask us how we do it in Colorado,” Gotlieb said.

Mallory, the chair of the county Democratic Party, was on the same page as Gotlieb.

“A lot of the people in the Arapahoe County Clerk's office are professionals who have been there a long time,” Mallory said. “There are a lot of checks and balances and redundancies built into the system.”

Still, there have been snags in some recent elections overseen by Arapahoe County.

The 2019 Aurora mayor's race between Mike Coffman and Omar Montgomery came down to a dead heat, which was complicated when officials discovered hundreds of replacement ballots had lingered for days in a Postal Service warehouse before being delivered to voters on Election Day instead of being delivered in advance.

In January of this year, county officials had to scramble to send out hundreds of ballots to overseas and military voters, called UOCAVA voters, after an elections official mixed up voter lists in the presidential primary.

Gotlieb said she feels the process has been tightened up since then, saying Arapahoe County Clerk Joan Lopez, a Democrat who defeated Republican incumbent Matt Crane 51-49 in 2018, has worked to address concerns.

“I think you had a new clerk who had to learn a lot,” Gotlieb said.

Gotlieb praised Perl, the elections director, who was hired in January.

“(Perl) runs a tight ship,” Gotlieb said.

Lopez said her office has made strides since the UOCAVA and Aurora mayor's race incidents.

“In every election, we go over what worked and what didn't,” Lopez said. “Unfortunately, we have experienced human error, but we fixed those by adding more redundancies, more checks on the process.”

Lopez said UOCAVA participation in the 2020 presidential primary was actually up, perhaps because of her office's fervent outreach after the delay in sending ballots.

Lopez also drew heat early in her tenure for actions characterized as overly partisan, including remaining as the registered agent for a Democratic fundraising group for the first several months of her term.

Lopez said she is committed to a fair process regardless of party.

“We have a wonderful staff who have run this facility for many years,” Lopez said. “I'm not the one who counts the ballots.”

Still, the party chairs said they are not without concerns.

Mallory, the Democratic Party chair, said the process to verify signatures on ballots may disproportionately flag signatures by immigrants or people who speak English as a second language. Ballots with unconfirmed signatures are sent for “cure,” meaning the voter must verify their identity.

“If you get a letter to cure a ballot, following up on that is important,” Mallory said. “If you don't, it can theoretically turn into a voter fraud investigation. The clerk's office is happy to help voters cure their ballots, and so are we. That verification is vital to the security of the process, and we all want it to get done.”

Gotlieb said any process is open to human error.

“People get into the process, and you get less than the optimum as laid out on paper,” she said.

Gotlieb pointed to the bipartisan teams of election judges overseeing much of the ballot counting process, which can be made up of members of any parties, including unaffiliated voters, who she said may actually have a partisan lean that more closely aligns with the other person on their team.

“They're supposed to be balanced, but there's room for it to be unbalanced,” Gotlieb said.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has consistently sought to cast doubt on the safety and legitimacy of mail voting systems in recent months, alleging that they are rife with fraud, abuse and forgery.

Both party chairs say they see no evidence of such problems in Arapahoe County's or Colorado's processes, and said they don't feel the president's claims will have much bearing on voters in the county.

“Our process has been working, and it's proven to work,” Gotlieb said. “There are a lot of states setting up mail voting processes on the fly this year, and those are the ones I might worry about.”

Mallory said if anything, the president's claims might push voters to vote earlier and pay more attention to the process.

“If people take their anxiety about this election and vote sooner, that's a silver lining,” Mallory said. “As people in politics and policy, we want everyone's voice heard.”

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