Clerk Officials: National Mail-In Ballot Controversy Won’t Impact Teller County

Authorities Caution Voters to Return Ballots Early; Don’t Procrastinate

~ by Rick Langenberg ~

Concerned about the ongoing controversy over mail-in voting raging across the country, with a bombardment of political rhetoric and lawsuits?

More importantly, will your vote actually be counted?

Well, put your fears to rest, but please, please, don’t be afraid to turn in your ballots earlier than normal.

That’s the response to these concerns by officials from the Teller County Clerk and Recorder’s office, as they prepare for what could become a record turnout in the forthcoming November presidential election. Clerk officials are already bracing themselves for a participation rate that will surpass the 80 percent rate

With a heated presidential and U.S. Senate race, coupled with some significant local and state ballot issues, get your pencils and pens sharpened, and get those ballots filled out and returned to a drop box promptly. And if you are still worried about your vote getting counted, then frequent a designated vote center.

Despite the fight over steps to allow more mail-in voting across the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Teller County and Colorado have become the gold standards for this process. On a county-wide basis, mail-in ballots have been used on a county-side basis since 2013. And from a municipal level, Woodland Park actually resorted to this system in the early 1990s.

“It has worked very well,” said Teller County Deputy Clerk Stephanie Kees, who heads the Teller elections division.  Moreover, she cautions that local citizens don’t have to lose any sleep over the plethora of national and state headlines dealing with the big mail-in voting fight. “People don’t have to worry at all about their votes being counted in Teller County. It will be business as usual,” said Kees.

And even with talk of reductions to the postal service operations,  officials don’t plan on changing the schedule for mailing out ballots.

Recently, U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy sent out a letter, warning congressional leaders “to realistically consider how the mail works, and be mindful of our delivery standards, to provide voters ample time to cast ballots through the mail.”

This prompted much outrage among Democratic leaders and sparked a congressional hearing, organized by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In addition, Colorado joined about a dozen other states in filing a federal lawsuit, aimed at protecting the ability  of the Postal Service to conduct the mail-in voting process with no interruptions or reductions in service. State leaders fear that reductions in service, reportedly ordered by the postmaster general, would lead to voter suppression

DeJoy, though, has denied these claims.

Colorado Secretary of  State Jena Griswold recently entered the political fray and didn’t hesitate at hurling a few verbal bombs at the White House on national television. But at the same time, Griswold has assured voters that their votes will be counted.

“Colorado’s election model is well situated to handle  both the delivery of and return of mail ballots,” said Griswold in an official statement delivered to many media outlets, including TMJ. “While I am concerned about service disruptions and other attacks on the U.S. Postal Service from President (Donald) Trump and members of his administration, I am confident that Coloradans will have their voices heard in November’s election.”

More specifically, Griswold cited the 300 drop boxes located across the state, and the wide variety of vote centers, for those who want to cast their ballots the old-fashioned way.

Kees said the majority of Teller citizens use the 24-hour drop boxes for returning their ballot, instead of mailing their ballots. These boxes will again be located at the courthouse in Cripple Creek and at the county’s motor vehicle office in Woodland Park. Plus, early voting will be available at the Woodland Park Library.

The deputy clerk said this system worked extremely well for the June 30 primaries, with Teller experiencing close to a 60 percent turnout, an outstanding rate for a primary.

In addition, efforts are underway to possibly have more drop boxes for the Divide and Florissant areas.  Through a possible grant, Kees said officials hope to have drop boxes in both of these locales, but nothing is completely guaranteed.

Ballots will be mailed out several weeks before the election, starting on Oct. 9.

Killing the Betting Limits in Cripple Creek

The election ballot questions for our region haven’t quite been finalized. According to Kees, language is still being adjusted for a local issue in Cripple Creek, asking voters if they want to do away with the $100 betting limits on individual wagers at Colorado casinos and add more games. This is part of a state question that will have a huge impact for the Cripple Creek economy.

Conservative estimates indicated that if both the state and  local “raise the stakes” measures pass, Cripple Creek could experience a five to 10 percent hike in gaming revenue.

During last week’s Cripple Creek council meeting, City Clerk Janelle Sciacca cited the importance of this issue locally, and the opportunity it could provide for a revenue boost. She said the closure of the casinos, and the added COVID restriction, have seriously impacted the city’s bottom line. Currently, casinos are only using about half of their normal betting devices due to the restrictions,  a factor that definitely hurts the city financially.

In addition, the Northeast Teller County Fire Protection District may pose a  ballot question this November .

And for the first time in recent memory, the city of Woodland Park will decide a council seat during a coordinated election in November. This vote will determine the elected leader in Woodland Park who will fill a seat vacated by former member Noel Sawyer. This vote is critical as it could resolve a current 3-3 council vote split on most key issues.

Currently, city council meetings have sometimes extended for five-plus hours due to the current political division among the elected leaders. The current council couldn’t decide on an appointment for this seat, and referred the issue to the voters.

The deadline for certifying any local issues is Sept. 4.

And then there is a plethora of state questions at stake, some of which haven’t quite been resolved or finalized.

Big Controversial Races Facing Voters

There won’t be any shortage of heated races. The big national and state races hinge on the contest for the Oval office between Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

On the state level, the big race hinges on the showdown between Incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Cory Gardner and John Hickenlooper, the former governor of Colorado. This race could actually determine which party controls the U.S. Senate.

Already, election 2020 is getting off to an ugly start, with a large pro-Trump sign getting vandalized in a key location off Hwy. 24 in the east section of Woodland Park. According to Mick Bates, the chairman of the Teller County Republican Party,  this is the first time this has happened for one of their key signature signs  for a national race.  “It was very disappointing,” said Bates.

Bates said party leaders are going to strongly campaign for Trump and Gardner. “Those are two big-hitters.  We strongly support President Trump and Cory Gardner.”

But from the other side of the aisle, much support has been generated for the Democratic presidential ticket of Biden, the former vice-president, who is currently leading in most polls and trying to become only the second candidate to de-throne an incumbent president in the last few decades.  Plus, Hickenlooper has an undefeated record in state elections.

If history repeats itself, Teller County could host a national Democratic office within the near future.

Trump faces an uphill climb to win  in Colorado, with Colorado taking on a more Democratic look statewide. But in the local area, Teller County is still declared as “Trump Country.”

Also, the race between Gardner and Hickenlooper is expected to be extremely close, as already this contest hasn’t lacked in political attack ads aired on television.

During the last presidential election, Teller County posted an 82 percent response rate among active voters. With the current election  atmosphere,  Kees believes this record could be shattered in 2020.