Despite the first worldwide pandemic since 1918, or maybe because of it, La Plata County is on pace to shatter voter turnout numbers in a presidential year dating to at least 1984.
“I’m expecting 80% turnout,” said La Plata County Clerk and Recorder Tiffany Parker as her staff of 17 employees and dozens volunteers plowed through thousands of mail-in ballots she has received from both the U.S. Postal Service as well as the five drop-off boxes located around the county.
The number of ballots being returned – as of noon Tuesday, 53% turnout had already been recorded – could even break the 1984 presidential year record turnout of 84%. In 2016, the last presidential election, the county had 72% turnout.
As of noon Tuesday, one week before the 7 p.m. Nov. 3 deadline to get ballots to the clerk, 21,400 mail-in ballots had been returned in the county. In addition, 501 people had voted in person at one of two Voter Service Centers, one at the clerk’s office in Bodo Industrial Park and one at Bayfield Town Hall.
The county had 41,388 registered voters, as of noon Tuesday.
For those who like to vote the old-fashioned way, three more Voter Service Centers will open Monday, Nov. 2, and Election Day at the La Plata County Fairgrounds, Fort Lewis College Community Concert Hall and the Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum in Ignacio.
Beverly Ellis, La Plata County Democratic Party volunteer coordinator overseeing phone banking and texting, said 40 volunteers have reached more than 10,000 voters through phone calls or texts as part of the get-out-the-vote effort in the county.
Postcards and mailers have gone out and literature drops at homes also have been made by volunteers to get county Democrats to the polls.
La Plata County Republicans declined to comment for this story.
Jack Turner, an independent candidate for La Plata County commissioner, said he doesn’t have anything as sophisticated as a phone bank operation to boost his vote, but he is driving around town several times a day in his Chevrolet Traverse towing a trailer adorned with his campaign signs to encourage supporters.
“I make a loop from Walmart to the north Hampton Inn, and I drive up and down Main Avenue,” he said. “I think I get more exposure than if I stood at an intersection, and I can listen to the radio. Then I’ll make side trips up 32nd Street and around Fort Lewis.”
Turner, like the La Plata County Democrats, has not organized a watch party for Election Day.
“I’m not sure I’ll even know the results Tuesday night. I’m getting up there, and nine o’clock is like the new midnight for me,” he said.
Carol Cure, chairwoman of the La Plata County Democrats, said COVID-19 will prevent the group from organizing a watch party Tuesday night, but that hasn’t stopped her party’s get-out-the-vote effort.
Candidates love to go door-to-door talking to voters, but the novel coronavirus precluded that strategy this year, she said.
To make up for the lack of personal contact, Cure said, phone bankers encouraged voters to convince their friends and family to vote.
Statewide numbersAt the end of the day Monday, the Colorado Secretary of State’s daily report on ballot returns, which is a little behind data compiled at the county level, showed 7,572 Democrats, 6,561 unaffiliated voters and 4,564 Republicans had returned ballots in La Plata County.
In Montezuma County, 4,126 Republicans, 2,799 unaffiliated voters and 2,286 Democrats had returned ballots.
For the state, as of Monday, 1,790,827 people had returned ballots, 45% returned by Democrats, 37% by unaffiliated voters and 26% by Republicans. The remainder were returned by voters registered with small parties.
Older voters were far more likely to have voted than younger voters.
Statewide, as of Monday, 181,135 women aged 55 to 64 had returned ballots, and 180,517 men aged 55 to 64 had returned ballots. That compares with 57,577 women between the ages of 18 and 24 and 51,758 men in the same age range who had returned ballots.
Skeptic turned to volunteerWanda Cason, a Democrat, and Tom Dunn, a Republican, worked as a team from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, opening envelopes and checking ballots for any damage that would jam machines and ensuring ballots were properly marked.
Volunteers are teamed with a member of the opposite party or an unaffiliated volunteer to add a layer of oversight to the work.
From this point, ballots go for machine counting.
Envelopes are scanned in, and each signature on the envelope is checked to ensure it matches the signature on record with the Clerk and Recorder’s Office.
The office tracks signatures back to 2008, and signatures are checked against the last one filed with the office – either a signature from the voter in the 2018 election or the last election when he or she cast a ballot. For new voters, signatures are checked against their voter registration.
If ballots can’t be read by a machine, for instance if two bubbles are filled in for one ballot item, the ballot goes to a team, again a Republican and a Democrat, to determine if they can glean the voter’s intent. In some cases, a voter will strike a line through the bubble he or she didn’t intend to fill in, but the machine can’t read that, so instead human eyes determine the vote.
If voter intent still can’t be determined, the vote in that particular race is not counted.
Dunn initially contacted Parker because he was worried about the potential for voter fraud.
After Parker gave him a tour of the election division and Dunn saw the numerous checks to ensure an accurate and secure tally, he became a believer in La Plata County and Colorado’s voting procedures.
“I’m convinced that if every state did what we do here, there’d be no question about voter integrity,” he said.