Every Vote Counts

Mail-ballot elections force candidates to change their campaign strategies.

Kolomitz, Ortega and Woodward weren't the only politicos to request lists, however. Kevin Patterson, who beat out several other candidates to become the new school-board representative in District 4, bought a compilation on November 5 of everyone who had returned ballots in three specific precincts; John Smith, one of Patterson's opponents, asked on October 25 and November 2 for the names of people who had returned ballots in District 4; city councilwoman Happy Haynes and neighborhood activist Ari Taylor, representing the community group Northeast Denver Get Out the Vote, wanted to know on November 2 who hadn't returned ballots in council districts 8 and 11, and who had returned ballots throughout the rest of the city.

"November 2 was a wild day," says Bill Brennan, file maintenance supervisor for the Denver Election Commission. "It was the final Friday of the election, and I was running reports the entire day."

Northeast Denver Get Out the Vote used the information to remind people that "they still had a chance to make their voices count," Haynes says. "When we pulled the reports, we were astounded at how many people hadn't voted yet. It was discouraging and shocking." The community group was also a strong backer of the Denver Children's Initiative, a ballot measure that eventually failed. "The mail-ballot election was so extraordinary. Every campaign was in total disarray as to how to target the message and where, and it was clear that early messages were not well targeted."

Mark Poutenis

Mail ballots won't be a concern in the next election, as state law permits them only in off-year elections involving school-board candidates, but Kolomitz would like to see post-office politics eliminated entirely.

"I hate mail-ballot elections," he says. "I have a number of reasons why. From a voter-integrity perspective, I think they are bad, because how do you know when you mail out 200,000 ballots that I didn't vote [on behalf of] my wife, my son, my brother-in-law? Also, they are paper ballots, which are fundamentally flawed -- look at Florida. And secrecy is in question with mail ballots. Whoever opens the envelopes knows that person's name and how that person voted. Mail ballots disenfranchise voters as well. And by that I mean that in Denver, you only received a ballot in this election if you voted in last year's election. If you are registered, you could call to ask for one, but how many will do that?"

Although the Denver Election Commission made the decision to hold this year's mail-ballot election, Ortega believes the city council should have more of a say two years from now. If that happens, she says some things may change, adding, "I don't know if the city will use this process again."

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