The difficulty of being a first-time, mail-in Colorado voter

Nick Roberts.

"'Block the Vote' co-author and Rolling Stone contributor Greg Palast on Colorado's troubled voting system," an October 29 blog, suggests that our fair state makes it mighty tough on folks who not only want to vote but are interested in their ballot counting. Here's one more anecdote to add to the evidence pile: the story of my son, Nick, a 19-year-old student at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. As a political junkie who is aiming for a career as a history teacher, he's been looking forward to the opportunity to vote in his first election since he was old enough to grasp the concept. But for several tense weeks, we've feared that he wouldn't get the chance due to what appears to be a combination of bureaucratic bungling and overt incompetence.

Because our family lives in Jefferson County, Nick registered to vote at the county facility universally known as the Taj Mahal this past January, when he was in town for his Christmas break -- and he made another trip to the facility over the summer to formally ask for a mail-in ballot, since he'd be in Washington on election day. When he hadn't received his ballot by September, he filed another request -- and, still, nothing. Finally, on the 8th or 9th of October, my wife called on his behalf to ask what was happening. A clerk told her that the ballot had been mailed on October 6 and should arrive early the next week.

Unfortunately, it didn't. Nick waited and waited and waited, as did the rest of us -- at least until my wife's patience was exhausted. She made another call to Jeffco on October 20 and the person with whom she spoke agreed to cancel the first ballot and send another one; she guessed that ballot two should get to the District of Columbia by early the following week. When Nick's mail was distributed on Monday, October 27, however, the ballot still hadn't turned up -- so my wife phoned Jeffco again to find out what was going on.

This time, the individual on the other end of the line had a record of the ballot having been mailed on October 22, and she didn't know of any reason why it wouldn't eventually reach its destination. We weren't nearly as confident, and after my wife and I chatted about contingency plans, she made one last Jeffco call to ask if we could simply drop by the Taj Mahal, pick up a new ballot and send it to Nick ourselves. The answer she got from this particular respondent was an impatient "no," followed by a not terrifically sincere apology when my wife complained about how ridiculous the process had been to date, and how unfortunate it would be if an enthused, engaged first-time voter would be unable to participate in the election.

Thank goodness Tuesday's mail brought good news. The ballot belatedly arrived, and Nick made his choices last night. At this point, though, we're not taking any chances with the U.S. mail or Jefferson County's ability to process it in time. He's Federal Expressing the ballot to our home address today along with a copy of his driver's license; many first-time mail-in voters haven't been adequately informed about this last requirement, and lots of ballots may be tossed as a result. Once it arrives, I will personally take it to a voting center and watch as an election official places it in a ballot box.

Of course, this approach will cost us some extra cash, not to mention an additional expenditure of time. But we're bound and determined that Nick's voice be heard -- and based on our experiences, Jefferson County representatives aren't nearly as concerned. -- Michael Roberts

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts