“Innovation” isn’t a meaningless buzzword at the Denver Elections Division—that was my primary takeaway from a site visit with director of elections, Amber McReynolds and her stellar team this week.
Colorado is one of three states—Oregon and Washington are the others—conducting an all-mail election this year, and it also allows for same day voter registration and vote centers.
Because of this unique model and its large metropolitan footprint, Denver is a breeding ground for election innovation.
Denver uses its own data to drive smart policy decisions focused on enhancing the voter’s experience—and it’s working. In recent years, Denver has achieved significant cost savings while improving processes and outcomes dramatically.
McReynolds credits some of that success to the passage of Colorado’s Voter Modernization Act of 2013.
For example, election administrators typically list volunteer recruitment as a top challenge. In Denver, only 620 election judges are needed this presidential election under the all-mail and vote centers model/ Time was, Denver elections used to require 1,700 election judges.
Here's another example. In the 2012 general election, more than 65,000 provisional ballots were cast. Recent voter registration efficiencies reduced provisional ballots to only 980 in the 2014 election. This reflects more accurate voter rolls, a highly collaborative relationship with the post office, and a series of checks leading up to the election that foster fewer contested registrations. Reforms like these save money while making voting easier for Denverites.
From color-coded ballot processing rooms with matching vests for volunteers, to running simulations with poll workers before Election Day, every step of the election administration process has been carefully thought through. At the ballot verification and counting phases, computers face the internal windows so that public observers can easily see election judges at work.
At the 24-hour ballot drop box outside the office, a Denver Votes SnapChat filter awaits voters who just performed their civic duty. At the station where workers feed paper ballots into scanners to capture a digital image of every vote, each piece of equipment has been placed strategically, according to experts. Scanners are to the left of the worker, boxes of voted ballots opened and secured at hip-level for easy access, and stations at standing and sitting height so the worker can choose their own comfort level.
I observed a room of poll workers being trained where endless questions were asked and answered by election staff: What exactly can a poll watcher do, and how are they certified before the election? If a write-in candidate isn’t eligible, is the rest of the properly voted ballot counted? (Answer: Yes.) Is the woman hovering in the back of the room (me!) a credentialed poll watcher, and is she allowed to be in here?
The culture at the Denver Elections Division is one of continuous process improvement, and they look to others for inspiration as well. Copies of Orange County, Calif.'s, coloring books for kids to use while their parents vote sit on the desks of staff, waiting to be replicated for Denver’s next election. Emails from McReynolds with other stimulating ideas fill staff inboxes, because apparently seamlessly running the current election can’t stop her or her team from planning improvements for the next election.
Despite the churning seas of this election season, it seems like smooth sailing on Denver’s election administration ship so far. You can chalk it up to a strong captain, a staggering amount of advanced planning, or just a group of election gurus responding to the needs of their civic-minded Mile High community. But one thing is clear: Denver’s got a good thing going and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
Colorado voters: Curious if your vote has been counted yet? Sign up for Denver’s first-of-its-kind application, Ballot Trace. Have questions about your voter registration status, or need to figure out where to vote on election day? Visit GoVoteColorado.com.
Amanda Buchanan is a policy specialist for NCSL’s Elections and Redistricting Program.