How Arapahoe County officials collected and counted primary ballots Tuesday

How Arapahoe County officials collected and counted primary ballots Tuesday

Arapahoe County Deputy Director of Elections Bill Mast said many voters turned in their ballots in the last minute before primary election results were released. Many vote early by mail, but there are a good number of people who wait until the last minute.

“The trend in voting to move to (voting) on ​​the Monday and Tuesday of election week has really happened in recent years,” Mast said. “We started to grow more drop boxes … and that’s when things started to shift towards further returns from our constituents.”

It’s one of the county’s ways to meet voters where they are — however they want to vote.

Residents left their ballots in designated ballot boxes and voted in person. Whatever the method, election workers worked to secure their ballots for the count.

Ballot box collections

Ballot security teams check their ballot box log before zipping them up to head to the polling station on June 25. Photo by Isabel Guzman.

At the polling stations, the yellow-jacketed employees, also known as election judges, worked in pairs—one Democrat, one Republican. They unlocked the boxes and sealed the ballots with a tie, labeling them with specific codes. They track the codes on a spreadsheet, including the exact time the ballots were sealed. The time is recorded again when the ballots are opened at the polling station. Then the judges sign.

Mast said this primary election had a lower overall turnout than in years past, but that didn’t change the hard work of keeping ballots safe.

“There aren’t many contests on either party’s ballot in these primaries, which typically don’t generate high turnout,” Mast said.

Notably, many of the primary nomination battles in Tuesday’s primary were uncontested.

A voter leaves a ballot at a Littleton delivery box on June 25. Photo by Isabel Guzman.

After election judges placed the zipped ballot boxes into county vans, they were brought to the election facility, which is located in Littleton. There, boxes were opened and ballot envelopes were weighed, giving election workers an idea of ​​how many ballots each box received.

Sorting of ballots

Election workers then fed stacks of ballots into the Agilis Election Mail Sorting and Processing System, which scanned each ballot’s barcode, unique to each voter-allocated ballot. That’s when a system called Colorado BallotTrax sends a notification to each voter, letting them know via email or text, for example, that their ballot has been received. The machine also checked a statewide voter database designed to ensure that voters turned in only one ballot. Agilis also took photos of each vote signature and uploaded them back into the database.

Ballots are run through the Agilis Election Mail Sorting and Processing System machine before being collected for counting. Photo by Isabel Guzman.

Signature verification

After the ballots were run through the machine, they were brought to a signature verification process station. Tom Skelley, Arapahoe County Clerk and Recorder’s business partner, said the system compares signatures to the most recent previous voter signatures as well as driver’s license signatures to identify any differences that could indicate fraud.

After passing through Agilis, the ballots were spat out of the machine and sorted into groups, some of which included “Thick/Thin” and “Received”. Ballots falling into the “Thick/Thin” group warranted investigations by election officials. They indicated that the ballot envelope may contain too many or not enough ballots. “Received” ballots have been approved to move to the next step in the process.

Opening of the ballot

Once the signatures were verified, election officials in green vests opened the ballots. The envelopes remained face down as they were opened to ensure voter anonymity throughout the process.

Green vest teams also ensured that there was only one ballot in each envelope and that it was legible. If ballots marked with red ink are discovered or have tears or stains, the ballot is set aside and marked on a tracking sheet as damaged.

“In this case, the ballots are duplicated for the scanner and their votes are still counted,” Skelley said.

When a voter with a disability needs assistance at in-person voting centers, judges use ballot marking devices to select the voter’s options and print a new ballot with an identification number that matches the ballot postal vote initially. If a ballot is damaged or rejected by the scanners, adjudication and duplication are performed by two bipartisan judges at the election center. Original ballots are retained for post-election audits and retained for 25 months after the election as required by state law

Ballots are in tubs ready for bipartisan election judges to remove the ballots from their envelopes at the Littleton election center on June 25. Photo by Isabel Guzman.


Election workers then worked on adjudication — the process of duplicating a damaged or mismarked ballot so ballot scanners can read the voter’s choices. They also decided how to mark the duplicate ballot for ballots that have unclear markings, such as cutting off other candidates, as recommended by the state’s voter intent guide.

Adjudication and duplication apply to ballots that are damaged or rejected by scanners due to stray marks, undervotes or overvotes, which occur when a voter selects too many or too few options on the ballot. This may also apply to military and overseas electronic ballots.


The ballots then went to the tabulators, where the ballots are counted. Access is limited. Bipartisan election judges run the ballots through scanners that print a date and time stamp and identification numbers.

The tabulation room is never connected to the Internet, WiFi or Bluetooth to ensure security in counting.

“The thing I would like our voters to understand better is that … when we send out those unaffiliated ballots, we send out the ballots of both major parties … They can choose one party or the other, they can’t vote on both ballots. When they do that, we’re not allowed to count any of the ballots,” Mast said.

The county has about 50 percent unaffiliated voters, meaning half of registered voters received both Democratic and Republican ballots but could only choose one to present for the count.

On June 27, this story was updated to reflect the correct processes for duplicate ballots and adjudication.