The life of an Elbert County ballot

Multiple steps are followed carefully to ensure accuracy in voting


Throughout the history of voting in the United States, there has been shifting concern about the accuracy of the voting process. Often voters are unfamiliar with the life of a ballot and the process it goes through once it leaves their hands, leaving some questioning whether their vote is properly counted.

On Oct. 31, the Elbert County News spent the morning at the Elbert County Elections Office, part of the Elbert County Clerk and Recorder’s Office, learning the ins and outs of the county’s voting system and the life of a ballot. Election Day is Nov. 8.

Going through a nine-step process, each voter’s ballot is handled with care by a bipartisan team to ensure the validity of the voting system. Verification and counting rooms are under video surveillance and require keycard access to open.

The bipartisan team responsible for the full ballot process consists of 25 election judges appointed by their respective political parties. For the 2022 election, there are 12 Democrats and 13 Republicans on the team. Election judges are responsible for the administration of election procedures and ensure that the election process is administered fairly and in accordance with the law. Each election judge participates in online training and must pass a course. They also go through in-person training held by Elbert County Elections.

“Our goal is perfection, balance, and to be exact. Every election we achieve that goal. We also work well together as a bipartisan team,” said Tracy duCharme, lead election judge for the Democratic Party. “We try to keep an eye on the flow of the process. We will move judges around where we need them if we see a bottleneck somewhere.”

“You’ve got judges from both parties and every one of us in here is looking out for the same thing. To count the ballots, make sure the signatures are correct, to open them appropriately, everything. Everybody is focused on the same thing,” said Danny Willcox, lead election judge for the Republican Party. “People in this county should trust this process.”

Below is the step-by-step life cycle of an Elbert County ballot.

1. Preparing ballots for voting

Each eligible voter in Elbert County will receive a ballot based on their address. The elections and issues on the ballot are determined by the address on file, taking into account special districts for which the voter pays taxes (e.g., park and rec district, school district, etc.). There are 21 different ballot types for Elbert County this election.

“We try to make our best guess as to how many outgoing envelopes we’ll need, how many return envelopes we’ll need, etc. There’s a lot of preliminary work that takes place. Everybody has to have the correct ballot,” said Dallas Schroeder, the Elbert County clerk and recorder. “So, what you pay taxes on is what you should be able to vote on. If you’re in a park and rec district or a certain school district that’s having an issue on the ballot, or whatever the case may be, we make sure that you get the right ballot with the right information on it.”

2. The voter makes their selections and drops their ballot off at the ballot drop box

Ballots could also be returned by mail during October, but because of the time required for postal delivery, ballots filled out during the last week before Election Day should be taken to a drop box.

3. Removing ballots from an Elbert County ballot drop box

Each morning, election judges in bipartisan teams go to each ballot drop box throughout the county to pick up ballots from the day before. Ballots are placed in an official, secured, locked bag for transport back to the Elbert County Elections Office in Kiowa. Each bag has a tamper-proof seal and an accompanying log that is signed by both election judges.

4. Receiving room and signature verification

As ballots are brought into the Elbert County Elections Office by the election judges, they are taken to the receiving room, where voters' signatures on their ballot envelopes are verified. Before verification, the secure transport bags are logged in. Before the bag is opened, it is logged again that the seal has not been tampered with.

The ballots are counted into batches of 25. The ballots are then scanned to capture the envelope signature. This process logs which voters have returned their ballots. At this point, voters will receive a notification that their ballot was received (typically through email).

During this process, judges are also looking for any signature discrepancy. If a ballot is returned without a signature, the voter receives a letter from the Elbert County Elections Office reporting the issue. The voter then has up to eight days after the election to “cure” the issue. Ballots are then moved from the receiving room to the counting room.

5. Ballot envelopes are opened with a special ballot opener

This measure is taken to ensure that no ballots are torn.

“We’ve in the past had issues where ballots have been torn or the corners of ballots have been sliced off,” said Schroeder. “If the timing marks are taken off, then the ballot has to be duplicated.”

When a ballot has to be duplicated because of missing timing marks or unreadability, the judges use a machine that creates another ballot with the same answers. They then send the duplicate ballot forward in the process, while the original ballot is locked in a secure box.

6. Judges visually examine each ballot for readability issues

One judge will take the ballot out of the envelope and hand the ballot to the judge across the table, who will then take the ballot out of the secrecy sleeve. The election judge will then visually examine the ballot, looking for problems that could cause issues with the digital vote counter.

“Judges examine the ballot, see if someone spilled coffee on it, if there is something on it that will make it hard to read, if they put any identifying marks, etc,” said Schroeder. “These ballots will be duplicated so they can be properly read. We stamp the ballot to indicate that it’s been duplicated and labeled to coincide with the original ballot. The original ballot then gets put into a secure, locked container. We do this because every ballot is important, and we want to honor the voter.”

After the ballots are examined for issues, they are then shuffled, numbered, and put into batches of 50 in preparation for digital counting. This organizational method is used to audit ballots post-election. The ballots are then ready to go through the digital scanner and be counted.

7. Digital and hand count

Ballots are then digitally scanned and counted. Elbert County Elections uses a special ballot counter that each ballot passes through before the ballot is securely stored. After ballots are digitally scanned, they are then hand-counted to confirm the digital count.

“We hand-count to verify the results of the machine count. We’ve done that since 2020. In 2020, people started questioning whether the tabulation machines are reading correctly, so we wanted to make sure that they were,” said Elbert County Elections Manager Rhonda Braun. “We go above and beyond. We have never found that the machines were reading incorrectly. We have found some judge errors, but we’ve never found where the machines were reading incorrectly.”

8. Retention

Ballots and envelopes are retained for a minimum of 25 months. They are kept in large blue plastic containers and secured with bright yellow zip ties. Elbert County holds occasional shredding events where ballots and their envelopes are shredded after the 25-month period.

9. Audit

The ballots are audited post-election. The Colorado Secretary of State’s Office will require Elbert County Elections to retrieve specific ballots from storage for verification.

“The Secretary of State Office will ask us to find a specific ballot for audit. We can tell them the specific tabulator that was used, the specific batch, down to the specific ballot,” said Schroeder. “We have to be able to get back into the bins, find that ballot, pull it out, and be able to verify with tools provided by the Secretary of State Office that that ballot was scanned and tabulated correctly.”

The Elbert County Elections Office wants to reassure voters that the election process in Elbert County is secure, safe and accurate.

“Because of all the checks that we have, once the ballots become under our control and we actually have the ballot in hand, we have good processes, we have good things that are going on all the way through. Everything that we can do within our power, we verify it,” said Schroeder. “Voters should feel very confident that in Elbert County their ballot is counted.”

How to be an election watcher

Residents of Elbert County can become election watchers if they have concerns about the ballot process. An election watcher can sit and view the process at the Elbert County Elections Office in Kiowa.

“We welcome people to come in and ask questions,” said Braun. “If people have concerns about the ballot process, they can come in and be watchers to observe the process. We work very hard to make sure that we are transparent.”

“Voters should have faith in this process. If they have questions or concerns, they can sign up to be a watcher and witness the process,” said duCharme. “Every time we have a new watcher, they tell us that they’re amazed at the checks and balances that go on and they understand the process and they go away with a better faith in the process.”


Oct. 31 was the last day that the Elbert County Elections Office could mail ballots to voters. Voters can vote in person at the Voter Service Center in Kiowa (see sidebar) or they can pick up a replacement ballot in person. Ballots can be dropped off at ballot drop boxes around the county until 7 p.m. on Nov. 8.

If a person’s ballot is lost in the mail or is destroyed in some way, voters can go to the Voter Service Center in Kiowa at 440 Comanche St. to vote.

You can track your ballot at

For more information on Elbert County Elections, visit

Voter service center and ballot drop box locations and times

Elbert County residents can cast their ballots in person at the voter service center in Kiowa or can place their ballots in four drop boxes (one of which will only be available on Election Day, Nov. 8). The locations and times are:

◊ Main Office — Samuel Elbert Building — voter service center and 24-hour drop box

440 Comanche St., Kiowa

Voter service center hours:

Monday-Friday (through Nov. 7) 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Tuesday, Nov. 8 — Election Day — 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

24-hour drop box located in drive-through lane, open until 7 p.m. Nov. 8

◊ Elizabeth Town Hall — voter service center (Tuesday, Nov. 8 only) and 24-hour drop box

151 S. Banner St., Elizabeth

Voter service center hours (only on Nov. 8):

Election Day — 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

24-hour drop box in front of Elizabeth Town Hall, open until 7 p.m. Nov. 8

◊ Singing Hills Elizabeth Fire Station (CR 166) — 24-hour drop box

41002 Firehouse St., Parker

24-hour drop box only, open until 7 p.m. Nov. 8

◊ Spring Valley Golf Club — voter service center (Tuesday, Nov. 8 only)

42350 County Road 21, Elizabeth

Voter service center hours (only on Nov. 8):

Election Day — 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Map of Elbert County ballot drop boxes with aerial images of box locations

Click here:

election, election integrity, Elbert County, Dallas Schroeder, Colorado


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