Colorado election officials are warning residents to watch out for an informal postcard sent by the U.S. Postal Service that contains misleading information about the upcoming November election.
The mailer, according to a news release sent by the La Plata County Clerk & Recorder’s Office, says voters must request a mail-in ballot 15 days before the election and return their ballot at least seven days before the election.
In Colorado, however, residents do not need to request a mail-in ballot. Instead, ballots are mailed automatically to every eligible registered voter on Oct. 9.
Clerk & Recorder Tiffany Parker said if a voter has not received a ballot by Oct. 16, he or she should go to the clerk’s office to receive a replacement ballot.
La Plata County residents should mail in their ballots no later than eight days before the Nov. 3 election, Parker said.
“I know that may sound silly, but that is a whole other day,” she said.
Parker said about 28% to 30% of people that vote use the mail stream.
The potential consequences of the USPS’s mailer, she said, is the confusion it creates: People may think they need to contact the Clerk & Recorder’s Office when they don’t; they may think their actual mail-in ballot is junk mail; and they may think they need an absentee ballot.
“Unfortunately, this went out across the U.S. ... and they did not do any communicating,” Parker said. “That’s the piece that’s a little disturbing.”
Already, some La Plata County residents have received the mailer and are calling the Clerk & Recorder’s Office because of the misinformation contained on the postcard.
“People don’t have to do any action as long as their registration is accurate,” she said.
Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold said in a statement on Saturday her office filed a lawsuit against the USPS in response to the mailer that she said could mislead Colorado voters.
Griswold said her office learned about the mailer on Thursday and then asked the USPS to delay or not send it to residents in Colorado, “but they refused to commit to that.”
“It’s my job to try to stop misinformation and any unnecessary election confusion,” she said. “The importance of this election, combined with the fact it is being held amidst a national pandemic, further heightens the need to provide correct voting information to Coloradans.”
According to the complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, Griswold wrote, “These false statements will confuse Colorado voters, likely causing otherwise-eligible voters to wrongly believe that they may not participate in the upcoming election.”
On Saturday night, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order on the USPS from sending the mailers.
“The court finds that Colorado will suffer irreparable harm if the notice is delivered to Colorado households,” Judge William J. Martínez wrote.
Speaking with CNN, USPS spokesman Dave Partenheimer said the mailer “contains a single set of simple recommendations for voters throughout the nation, regardless of where they live and where they vote.”
“The main message of the mail piece is that voters should plan ahead, educate themselves about voting options available in their jurisdiction, and, if they choose to vote by mail, to give themselves enough time to receive, complete and return their ballot,” he said.
But Griswold believes the mailer is “suspect” and the decision to send it may be based on President Donald Trump’s recent attacks against mail-in voting.
“It very well could have started in a good place – making sure that voters have confidence in using the mail for voting,” Griswold told CNN. “But I do think when we see the pattern of voter suppression coming out of the president in his use of the post office to try to suppress voters, I do think it’s suspect.”
La Plata County’s Parker has said multiple times she supports mail-in voting, especially using the five 24-hour drop boxes around the county that can be used until 7 p.m. on Election Day.
“I’ve always been a mail ballot advocate because I believe there’s a ton of security within it, it gets the ballot into the hands of the voter quickly and it gives time for voters to educate themselves on the issues versus coming into the polls,” Parker said in a previous interview.
“You hear a lot about mail-in ballots now, but what’s happening nationally isn’t going to affect what we do in Colorado,” she said. “With all the talk nationally, it just seems concern has been heightened. But I’m very confident we’re going to be fine.”