With Mail Voting, Colorado Polling Places Suffer a Slow Death

Until recently, Colorado was happy to let votes choose between casting ballots at precincts or by mail. Now, the state appears headed toward Oregon-style all-mail balloting.
by | July 15, 2010

I don't have much to add to the Scott McInnis plagiarism scandal. Others are reporting that Republicans essentially are abandoning their erstwhile frontrunner for the Colorado gubernatorial nomination, but what happens next is unclear.

However, I did learn something about the August 10 primary from the Denver Post's story this morning on McInnis:

Forty-six of the state's 64 counties are holding all-mail elections.

That's quite a change from just a couple of years earlier. In 2008, when I last took a national look at voting by mail, only two states, Oregon and Washington, were embracing (almost) exclusive postal voting.

Colorado and California had a different model. They were letting voters opt to be "permanent absentee voters." Permanent absentee voters receive a mail ballot every election. At the same time, citizens that didn't want to vote absentee could vote on Election Day at traditional polling places.

In terms of making it easy to vote, it's hard to argue that this hybrid model isn't the best approach. Vote by mail or in person, whichever you please -- what could be easier than that?

Easier, that is, for voters. For election administrators, nothing could be more difficult or more expensive than having to conduct a full precinct election and provide mail balloting at the same time. My story ended by quoting Bill Bradbury, Oregon's then-Secretary of State:

How long the hybrid system will remain dominant in Colorado, or anywhere else, is anyone's guess. In Oregon, a hybrid similar to Colorado's led gradually to a declining use of polling places and eventually to all mail. "It really doesn't make sense," says Secretary of State Bradbury, "to spend all the time and all the money to have polling places for a smaller and smaller group of people."

Lawmakers in Colorado seem to be taking that message to heart. In 2009, state legislators passed a law that allowed counties to conduct all-mail primary elections. Of Colorado's eight most populous counties, only Republican-tilting El Paso County (where Colorado Springs is located) will have precincts for next month's primary.

Colorado also allows all-mail voting for some local elections. Doing so for general elections for state and federal office would be a pretty big step, but it's easy to see Colorado doing it in the next few years once the primaries and local elections get more voters in the habit of casting their ballots by mail.

The point the Denver Post was making, by the way, is that this shift to the mail complicates the McInnis situation.  Most Republican insiders seem to want to get rid of McInnis, but they don't want to allow the underfunded Don Maes, the only other Republican on the ballot, to be their nominee. One option is a write-in campaign for the primary. But, if Republican leaders are going to coalesce behind a write-in candidate, they'd better hurry. Counties start sending ballots in the mail on Monday.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com  | 

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