Elections officials gear up for vote in Elbert County

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On the job less than two months, both the county's new elections manager and clerk and recorder say they are prepared for this year's vote, which begins in earnest this week when ballots are mailed out.

“It's been a challenge,” said Dallas Schroeder, who was appointed Elbert County's new clerk and recorder in early September. “I'm learning something new every day. But it's making more and more sense and I feel ready for this election.”

Sherry McNeil, the county's new elections manager, who started just a week before Schroeder on Sept. 1, echoed the clerk's confidence.

“We are absolutely where we need to be” in terms of preparing for the election, McNeil said. “Jumping in right before major deadlines” has been the biggest challenge, she added, “but we've managed to get through it so far.”

Ballots will be mailed Oct. 18 to the county's 18,000 registered voters.

In 2012, nearly 80 percent of eligible voters in the county cast a ballot. Officials believe this year's turnout will likely not be as high because it is not a presidential election.

Two of the most controversial issues on the ballot this year are:

• Ballot Issue 1C, a proposed mill levy increase of up to four mills, put forth by commissioners to stabilize the county's depleted coffers;

• Ballot Issue 1B, a proposed repeal of a machine and tool tax exemption for energy producers operating in the county, a measure also envisioned to boost county revenues.

Both Schroeder and McNeil spent the better part of last week in El Paso County being trained by election officials there. McNeil has had previous experience with managing elections. Before being hired by the county, she worked for a number of years in the Elections Division of the Colorado Secretary of State's Office in Denver.

Recent passage by the Colorado Legislature of House Bill 13-1303 made changes to the way local elections are conducted around the state. The biggest changes, said McNeil, involve conducting most elections through mail-in ballots and setting up a specific number of Voter Service and Polling Centers — known as VSPCs — in each county depending on its population.

“Because of our relatively small number of residents, Elbert County only needs to have one VSPC,” said McNeil. “That will be located here in Kiowa in the courthouse.”

McNeil said HB 13-1303 also allows voters to register to vote right up through Election Day.

“We have a computer system set up to check to make sure those who register at the last minute are eligible to vote,” said Schroeder. “In the last few weeks, there's been a lot of time and effort into getting trained.”

Early voting starts Oct. 21 this year and McNeil plans to do nightly preliminary tallies right through Election Day.

In order to be counted, ballots must be received by the election office by 7 p.m. on Nov. 5, she said.

Voters can mail in their ballots or drop them off at the courthouse in Kiowa.

There will be a second drop-off location for ballots set up at the public library in Elizabeth.

And for those who still prefer to vote the old-fashioned way, Schroeder said a touch-screen voting machine will be available at the county courthouse. “Voters can come in and surrender their mail-in ballots and vote using the touch-screen machine,” he said.

Schroeder added that provisions will also be made at the courthouse “to accommodate hearing- and sight-impaired voters who wish to cast their ballots in person.”

McNeil said that she expects to be able to announce preliminary election results later in the evening on Nov. 5.

Certified results must be reported to the Secretary of State's Office by Nov. 25.

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