Candidates concerned mail-only ballots are affecting turnout |

Candidates concerned mail-only ballots are affecting turnout

Mike Lawrence

Catherine Carson, front, and Judy Birmingham prepare mail-in ballots for counting Monday at the Routt County Courthouse in Steamboat Springs. County Clerk & Recorder Kay Weinland said as of Monday, the county had received 1,675 verified ballots out of more than 13,400 sent to voters.

— Steamboat Springs City Council candidates said Monday that they are frequently hearing questions about Routt County’s first mail-only election, and some expressed concern that the new ballot process could affect voter turnout.

Election Day is one week from today.

“I’m still asked every day if it is mail-in only,” said Kenny Reisman, who is running for the District 2 City Council seat against Ken Solomon.

Jim Engelken, running for the at-large seat against Kyle Pietras, said despite public awareness efforts by local media and the Routt County Clerk and Recorder’s Office, many county residents don’t know there will be no traditional polling locations on Election Day this year.

“I’m amazed how many people haven’t heard that,” Engelken said. “I guess I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a lower turnout (this year).”

Routt County Elections Supervisor Vicki Weber said Monday that the county has now mailed 13,457 ballots to local voters. Routt County Clerk and Recorder Kay Weinland said 1,675 ballots have been mailed back to the county and verified. That number is a significant increase from last week. On Wednesday, Weinland said her office had received and verified 682 ballots.

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But the number of ballots returned as “undeliverable” – meaning U.S. Postal Service employees were not able to send those ballots to voters because of problems such as out-of-date addresses – also is increasing. Last Wednesday, Weinland said local post office branches had returned 1,022 undeliverable ballots to county election officials. Postal employees cannot forward ballots to new addresses because of security reasons.

On Monday, Weinland said postal employees had returned 1,659 undeliverable ballots to the county.

Weber and Weinland encouraged any resident who has not received a ballot and thinks they should have to call the Elections Office at 870-5558. Today is the last day to request a replacement ballot in the mail. Voters can pick up a replacement ballot in person and vote at the Elections Office until 7 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3. The office on the third floor of the Routt County Courthouse, on Lincoln Avenue in downtown Steamboat Springs, is open from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays. The office will be open Friday despite county furloughs.

Shooting for 60

Mail-in ballots have steadily increased in popularity in recent Routt County elections. Weinland said earlier this month that as many as 80 percent of county voters have requested to receive mail-in ballots permanently.

Reisman said this year’s challenges could be a natural part of the new, mail-only process.

“Big picture, it was a step we needed to take to see how it shakes out : I do believe that,” he said. “Anytime you start something new, there’s going to be hiccups to it. And I think we’ve seen hiccups with the undeliverable ballots and that kind of thing.”

Reisman and Solomon said they are making an increased effort to talk to voters about the mail-in process.

“Every time I talk to someone, I ask them if they’ve voted,” Solomon said Monday, adding that he’s “kind of disappointed” in the returns so far. “I encourage them to get (their ballot) in. : The clock is ticking.”

District 1 City Council candidate Cari Hermacinski said that after sending a widespread e-mail encouraging voter participation, she received several replies with questions about the process.

Her opponent, former City Council President Kevin Bennett, could not be reached for comment Monday.

Pietras said he is putting out “a strong word-of-mouth campaign” to raise mail-only awareness.

“I think maybe some people got excited when they got their ballots but maybe have put them down and forgotten about them,” Pietras said. “I think it will affect (turnout).”

Odd-year elections traditionally have lower turnouts in Routt County than even-year general elections. In 2007, 6,124 voters cast a ballot in Routt County, a drop from 2005’s tally of 6,850 voters – a county record for an odd-year election.

In 2008, 13,110 county voters cast a ballot in a huge turnout sparked by the presidential election.

Referring to the 13,457 ballots mailed this year, Weinland said she would be pleased with a turnout similar to recent odd-year elections.

“I’m looking for a 60 percent turnout rate,” Weinland said. She then hedged her optimism. “That’s optimistic. That’s county clerk hopefulness.”

At a glance

– If you haven’t received a ballot and think you should have, call the Routt County Elections Office at 970-870-5558.

– Today is the last day to request a ballot be mailed to you.

– There are five drop-off locations in Routt County for voters to submit their completed ballots: Routt County Clerk and Recorder’s Office, Yampa Town Hall, Oak Creek Town Hall, Hayden Town Hall and the Clark Store.

– All ballots must be received by 7 p.m. Nov. 3. Voters should not mail their ballots after Thursday.

– Voters will receive ballots specific to where they live. For example, South Routt residents won’t receive ballots because there are no contested school board races or city elections there.

– Voters who have any questions about the mail-in ballot process should call the Elections Office at 870-5558.

– Electronic voting is available for disabled voters or any voter who chooses to vote electronically, at the Elections Office on the third floor of the Routt County Courthouse.

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