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Colorado May Have A Problem with 12,000+ Disappearing Undeliverable Ballots

By Bob Cooper Guest Contributor

Rocky Mountain Voice on X

The Colorado Open Record Act (CORA) allows citizens to examine public records of payments via invoices as well as a long list of election records for every election.  CORA enables state and county officials to provide transparency for citizens, so they have access to and confidence in our governance. It is a valuable resource especially considering the national concern over our election systems. The information for this article is based on CORA information from 11 Colorado counties.

Undeliverable ballots are a vital election record in every election. States with mail in voting systems, like Colorado, mail out millions of ballots at the start of an election. The USPS delivers ballots to voters based on the mailing address in the voter registration record provided by each county. When a postal carrier determines a ballot undeliverable due to an address change, the postal carrier will return it to the local post office as “undeliverable”.  Undeliverable ballots cannot be forwarded to the voter and must be returned to the election department in each county. The return of an undeliverable ballot is processed by each county recording the voter’s ballot was undeliverable. The county then confirms this with another mailing. If the second mailing confirms the voter is no longer at that address, the ballot is recorded as undeliverable, and the voter status is changed from “ACTIVE” to “INACTIVE”. Registration records with an “INACTIVE” status are not mailed a ballot in the following election and after two election cycles and are theoretically removed from the voter list. As a result, it is extremely important that all undeliverable ballots are tracked with a chain of custody demonstrating the quantity the USPS collected matches the quantity the counties record as undeliverable. CORA information collected from the 2022 General Election indicates that of 11 of Colorado’s largest counties, only 2 confirmed records of undeliverable ballots closely matching quantities on USPS invoices billed to their respective county.

Counties typically produce very accurate elections records. One record we reviewed was the “Mail Ballot Reconciliation Report” which records every undeliverable ballot processed by the county during the election.  The USPS charges each county a return fee for every undeliverable ballot. Analysis of those USPS invoices can determine the quantity of undeliverable ballots the USPS charged to each county. To validate this analysis, our organization, Colorado Institute for Fair Elections, met with four counties to review the findings. We learned that counties do not normally compare USPS invoices against returned undeliverable ballots.

After 25+ CORA requests among 11 counties we learned the following regarding the 2022 General Election:

-In 9 counties, the invoice records are significantly different than the official undeliverable count.

-Over 18,000 undeliverable ballots have no matching USPS invoice record.

-In 3 counties, over 12,000 undeliverable ballots were invoiced but the county has no record of receiving them.

Because of these discrepancies, in February 2023, we notified a U.S. Postal Inspector and provided a detailed report of the findings and methodology for the research. We also shared the report with multiple counties.

Lastly, CORA information from other elections indicates these concerning inconsistencies have occurred in other elections (the 2022 Primary).

Going forward, our organization, Colorado Institute for Fair Elections, will work with counties by recommending procedures to improve chain of custody on these important election records. We will request support from counties to have the USPS investigate why these variances have occurred.  We are also researching ways to determine if any of these missing undeliverable ballots were voted in 2022.

Recent polls show that many Americans do not feel confident the 2024 election will be counted accurately.   The most important thing our agencies can do to address this is provide transparency and answer questions voters have when they arise.  Obviously, we have questions about the information we found and will continue to search for answers.

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