With the 2018 midterm elections approaching quickly, the Grand County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) has begun to focus more of its attention on related topics, both looking back to the recently held primary elections and forward toward possible ballot measures that voters could be presented with this fall.
At the most recent regular meeting of the Board, Grand County Clerk and Recorder and Election Sara Rosene presented procedural results from the June primary elections. This year’s primaries were notable as this is the first year that certain of Colorado’s unaffiliated voters could cast a vote in the Republican or Democratic primaries. Unaffiliated voters who have expressed a preference for one of the two major parties or who have no preference were eligible to vote this year. Colorado voters affiliated with alternative parties– such as the Libertarian, Green, or American Constitutional parties– remained ineligible for the primary vote, as well as unaffiliated voters who have expressed a preference for an alternative party.
As of the day of the election, according to Rosene, there were 10,877 active voters in Grand County. 4,293 of those were registered as belonging to the Republican party, 2,407 to the Democratic party, and 4,177 as unaffiliated. She reported that her office, the County entity responsible for election administration, printed about 15,000 ballots on-site for the mail-in election. The Clerk indicated that, while printing on-site is time-consuming, it can save cost and costly printing errors, such as the wrong ballot ID having been printed by a print vendor for a much larger county, requiring hand-counting upon return of the ballots.
The Clerk’s Office mailed 107 ballots on May 10 to uniformed and overseas voters. On June 4, they mailed 10,420 domestic ballots to be returned by the election date of June 26. Of these, 6,591 party-specific ballots were mailed to registered Republicans, Democrats, and unaffiliated voters with a preference for one of the two. 3,829 packets were mailed to unaffiliated voters with no party preference. The packets contained one of each ballot, with instructions to return only one. Voters who returned both would have neither counted. Additional ballots were mailed up to the 18th, to any eligible voters who updated their information or moved into the county during that period.
3,598 ballots were returned, with 2,521, or 70 percent, being returned in drop boxes located throughout the county and 1,077 being returned by mail. 29 votes were cast in person at the polling station located in the County Building in Hot Sulphur Springs. 3,585 of those ballots were counted. 43 ballots could not be counted for various reasons, such as not being signed, signature not being verifiable, or having returned more than one ballot.
1,987 Republican and 1,598 Democratic ballots were counted. 792 unaffiliated packet holders returned ballots. Of those 520 cast Democratic ballots and 272 returned Republican ballots.
Rosene discussed some of the security precautions built into the election procedure, including training to all staff and election judges for each election, updating training for even previously experienced supports. The County uses the state voter registration system, SCORE, which is protected by a two-factor authentication requirement as well as regular login and password changes. The election software is monitored by a state contractor, who notifies the County and the State in case of irregularities.
The County implemented a new voting system, the Dominion system, this year. They are leasing the program and equipment and, according to the Clerk, “had the opportunity to set up elections and print ballots for the Towns of Granby, Grand Lake, Fraser, The Fraser Valley Metropolitan Recreation District and the Silvercreek Water and Sanitation District.” She said that they also counted ballots for Granby, Grand Lake, and Silvercreek Water and Sanitation.
A recent legislative change set the first risk-limiting audit to be performed in 2017. Grand County did not hold an election in 2017, so underwent its first audit this year, explained Rosene. The County provided a manifest of ballots and the cast vote records to the State. The Secretary of State’s Office requests specific ballots to be audited and provides targeted races to be examined. In Grand County, the chosen targets were the races for the Republican State Treasurer and the Democratic Attorney General. Given these targets, Grand County audited 338 ballots, the third highest audited ballots in the state, other than those counties hand-counting ballots, and lower than Jefferson and Boulder County, according to the Clerk. She reported the results of the audit at 100 percent, avoiding any need for a second round of auditing.
Discussion also took place around potential ballot measures to be workshopped at an upcoming Board meeting. Current measures being presented are a question about a marijuana sales tax and exemption from Colorado’s Senate Bill 152, which prevents counties and municipalities from investing public funds in internet infrastructure and services. This last was introduced and passed by resolution for the 2017 ballot, before Grand County cancelled that election, due to too high a cost for only one or two ballot questions.
When reminded of the workshop by County Manager Lee Staab, Commissioner Rich Cimino also mentioned a potential desire by the Grand County Emergency Telephone Authority to seek a possible ballot solution to an increasing funding shortfall for 911. When asked for details, Ray Jennings, Director of Emergency Management, indicated that the funding for 911 systems comes through a tax on personal landlines. He said that as populations move toward more mobile communication means, that funding is decreasing and that “the cost for that equipment and services will soon outpace the revenue.”
He explained that the Telephone Authority’s primary purpose is to ensure that “when you call 911, someone is going to answer.” Jennings and the Authority are looking forward to the workshop to discuss possible solutions to the funding problem, such as a sales tax increase or bond measure, as well as an appropriate time-frame for such action. He recognized that the time frame to meet all legal requirements for the November 2018 ballot is tight and that the issue may need to be presented for 2019.
The ballot measure workshop will be held during the regular BOCC meeting of August 6 in the Board Meeting Room in the County Administrative Building and is open to the public.