The Castle Rock Town Council took time during its Aug. 5 meeting to answer concerns of some residents about the ballot process for the Aug. 19 special election.
Councilmember Jennifer Green asked the town clerk to shed light on three specific issues that have prompted public worry: the lack of signature verification when processing votes, the lack of “privacy sleeves” to conceal ballots and the practice of starting to count the mail-in ballots up to 15 days before the election.
According to Town Clerk Sally Misare, neither state municipal code nor the Town of Castle Rock's own election code requires signature verification.
The town does not currently have access to the statewide database of signatures.
Town officials said it may be possible to acquire a database of pdf images of all of the signatures of voters that are registered in the town from the state, but added that they would not have the appropriate software to utilize it, meaning that verification would be a tedious task of loading each signature image to compare to each ballot.
The town's election code does not require secrecy sleeves, which are simply pieces of paper used to conceal ballots.
“In our case, the ballot is not printed on both sides, so it's as simple as folding your ballot to conceal your votes and that is an acceptable practice,” Misare said.
The clerk added that beginning to process ballots prior to the closing of polls is done in virtually all municipalities that vote by mail.
When ballots are processed early, the votes are not counted until polls are closed.
The ballots themselves are checked by election judges for authenticity and separated from the envelopes that they were mailed in. The ballots are then put into groups of 50 and sent through a machine to be counted.
Then, once the polls have closed, a programing card is put into the machine telling it to stop counting ballots and start reading votes.
Misare said that if the processing of ballots does not begin early, there would likely be a significant delay in getting the election results.
Of the three issues, councilmembers were most concerned about the lack of signature verification. The council was in unanimous agreement about the need for, and importance of, using signature verification; however, members disagreed about how soon it would be feasible to implement the practice.
Several members of the public spoke at the meeting urging the town to adopt the process, warning of possible opportunities for fraud without signature verification.
The authenticity of ballots is currently confirmed by comparing the issued ballot number and name to the name and number listed on the town's list of registered voters. Town Attorney Robert Slentz advised council that changing the election rules during the election could open them up to a possible lawsuit.
Green and councilmember George Teal favored finding a way to incorporate some form of signature verification into the Aug. 19 election.
“We don't have any processes in place to do this,” Castle Rock Mayor Paul Donahue said. “We haven't trained any of the election judges to do this, and we're asking them to begin this brand new process that they've never done before, that we've got nothing in place to do, and we're asking them to figure it out and do it on the run.
“I just think that it's completely unreasonable to ask them, at this point, to do that. I understand what you're saying, but I disagree that now is the time to implement signature verification when we've never done it before.”
Council asked town staff to come up with a plan for implementing signature verification for future elections and set the first meeting of December as a target date for the presentation.
Castle Rock currently has no ballot question in the county's November election.
The next scheduled regular election for the town is in April 2016.