Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Colorado is quite possibly the easiest place in the country to vote. That's because the state offers voters three major options: They can sign up and become permanent absentee voters, receiving a ballot in the mail each election; they can vote early in-person; or they can vote at a standard precinct on Election Day. In the August primary, however, most of the precincts were gone.
Instead, 46 of Colorado's 64 counties held their elections almost entirely by mail, with ballots sent to every registered voter. The shift reflects the current dismal fiscal climate for local governments -- Colorado counties saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by doing away with precincts. But the shift may also reflect the natural progression of states that experiment with mail-in balloting. Oregon and Washington also started by offering the option of either precincts or mail ballots. Today, both states vote almost exclusively by mail.
One major reason: Once it's introduced, voting by mail is popular. As fewer and fewer voters use precincts, election officials question whether the expense and administrative challenges of providing them is worthwhile. Mail elections do, however, come with their own complications for administrators, including maintaining an address list to designing voter instructions and guarding against voter fraud. "There's a misconception that they're easy to host and run from an elections management standpoint," says Stephanie O'Malley, Denver's clerk and recorder. "There's no easy election to deliver to the public." Still, almost every election official would say it's easier to deliver a mail election than a combination.
Colorado's precincts, however, will be back in November. Counties opted for the all-mail election last month under a new state law that allowed them to do so for primaries. So far, legislators haven't given counties the same power for general elections. Still, most November ballots will be cast by mail. In many Colorado counties, a majority of registered voters have signed up to become permanent absentees. As a result, it's clear that Colorado lawmakers will continue discussing a shift further toward full postal voting in the months and years ahead.
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