The mail-in ballot was convenient for the public but slowed down the ballot count and release of results, officials said.
One reason for the delay amid the 80 percent turnout, was fewer ballot tabulation machines, Montezuma County Clerk Kim Percell said.
During a traditional election, voting takes place at polling centers in each of the eleven precincts. In that system each precinct has its own tabulation machine that processes and counts the ballots on site.
The memory card is downloaded at the clerk’s office and the precincts’ results are typically released to the public at that time.
But in the all mail-in vote, the 11 precincts were replaced with three voting centers where ballots were dropped off. The voting centers do not have ballot tabulation machines. Instead, all the ballots are hand-delivered to the county clerk’s office to be fed through a single tabulator machine.
“That slowed the process down,” Percell said.
The two-page ballot this election is also slower to process through the tabulation machine.
Montezuma County was the last in the state to post results, and the office did not release preliminary results.
Percell said it is up to the clerk’s office to decide whether to release preliminary results.
“I decided not to because releasing preliminary results would have further slowed us down,” she said. “We felt that doing the count nonstop, all at once, with no interruptions was the best way to get it done.”
The sheer volume of ballots in recent days was also overwhelming for the limited election staff. Between Nov. 7 and Nov. 8, the clerk’s office received 4,300 ballots, with 2,400 ballots coming in on Election Day. In all, the processed and counted more than 12,300 ballots, compared with 7,800 counted in the 2012 presidential election.
“I did not expect it to take this long,” Percell said.
Percell credited the election judges and staff for their hard work and perseverance during the marathon count, which began at 7 a.m. Tuesday and ended at 5:40 a.m. Wednesday.
“We are tired, but we got it done and did the best we could,” she said. “The election judges took the signature verification very seriously, and that also took time and needed to be done.”
About 200 ballots had signature discrepancies, which required careful comparison of the signature with voter signature records stored on separate computers. The flawed signature ballots were not counted as part of the total. Those voters will be notified of the signature discrepancy by mail in the next week and will have an opportunity to resolve the problem and have the vote count.
In this presidential election, there were 4,500 more ballots than in 2012. In preparation for an expected jump in participation, Percell scheduled seven judges to count and process ballots, instead of the usual five.
The judges worked through the night and into the early morning in a small back room of the clerk’s office. Percell said additional judges would have made the count go faster, but there was not sufficient space to hold more.
Dolores votes arrived at the Montezuma County Clerk’s Office in Cortez about 8:15 p.m., and votes from Mancos still on the way. About 10:30 p.m., the Montezuma County Clerk’s Office said that unofficial results were not expected before 11:30 p.m., and at midnight, not for at least another hour.
By 1 a.m., election judges were still counting votes in Montezuma County, the only county in Colorado that had failed to post a result to the Secretary of State’s website. At 5 a.m., they were still counting.
The last voter in Montezuma County on Tuesday was Kenneth Lukasik, who finished at 8:15 p.m. About 12,065 votes had been turned in.
“I prefer voting at the polls system,” he said. “Too many things can go wrong with a mail-in system.”
Jay Isola took the long way top the ballot box.
“I traveled across two states to vote in Cortez,” he said. “I live in Denver, so I voted on a provisional ballot.”
Krisalyn Heacock, a new Cortez resident, said she had a good voting experience.
“The election staff was very helpful,” she said. “My election night plans are to go to casino with my mother.”
Bam Macien, owner of Orion Construction, said he was glad to vote in a “historic election.”
Colorado’s voting system briefly failed shortly before 3 p.m. Tuesday, forcing a small number of voters to cast provisional ballots.
Colorado Democrats sought a court order to keep the state’s voting centers open an extra two hours Tuesday night because of the system failure, but a Denver district judge rejected the request. Montezuma County ended voting at 7 p.m. as planned.
With the system down, county election clerks could not process mail ballots whose signatures had not been verified or confirm the identity of residents voting in person.
At 3:16 p.m., the system came back online, and clerks reported that normal voting resumed. An unknown number of voters cast provisional ballots while others decided to wait for the system to return to working condition. The secretary of state’s office is investigating the problem.
Secretary of State Wayne Williams, however, will not extend voting hours because of the problem. “No one was prevented from voting at that time,” spokeswoman Lynn Bartels said. “Nobody was denied anything.”
As of 6:15 p.m., about 11,600 ballots had been dropped off at the Montezuma County Clerk’s Office, said clerk Kim Percell, as about 35 people stood in line to either receive a ballot or register to vote.
“Mostly the people in line did not update their address, so they did not receive a ballot in the mail,” Percell said.
Some were registering to vote as well.
On Monday and Tuesday, the clerk’s office received 4,300 ballots. Election judges are working hard to keep up, Percell said.
“It is going to be a late night,” she said. “We will get the results out as quickly as we can.”
The computers did briefly go down around 3 p.m., Percell said, but were back on line within 15 minutes.
Montezuma County polls at the county clerk’s office, Dolores and Mancos libraries will close at 7 p.m. she said. However if you are in line by 7 p.m. you will be allowed to vote.
Dolores reports computer went downAt the Dolores library polling center, election officials said election computers were down for 15 minutes in the afternoon, but came back on line with no problems. Voter traffic was a “steady flow all day,” said official Graham Nielson.
The number of ballots have not been counted, but Nelson said quite a few replacement ballots handed out to people who did not receive them in the mail.
Regarding the mail-in system, election official Zia Beaver said most people like it but some preferred the old system of getting a ballot at the polls to vote. Voter booths were set up for people to vote fill out their ballots at the polling centers.
Kim Karn, of Dolores, turned in her ballot at the Dolores Library.
She likes receiving the ballot in the mail prior to Election Day because “it gives me a chance to think about the questions.”
Regarding the election, Karn said she had to “tune out” all the negative rhetoric and felt that the debates were not very substantive on the issues.
Dolores voter Jen Adams agreed.
“They did not discuss the issues enough, and the campaigns were filled with anger,” she said. “I’m nervous how the night will turn out.”
Mancos reports long waitsAt about 4:15 p.m. at the Mancos Public Library, election official Tulli Kerstetter reported that the computer system had been slow at times, leading to long waits for voters. But those who had waited a long time were patient, she said.
There had been a steady stream of voters coming to the library all day, even before the polls opened, Kerstetter said.
“Everyone has really been wanting to vote,” she said.
Three boxes full of dropped-off ballots had been filled, and officials had gone through three rolls of “I Voted” stickers, Kerstetter said.
In La Plata County, the system went down for about 10 minutes.
Erin Hutchins, the election administrator there, said the hiccup meant that officials had to issue two provisional ballots at the Durango office. But she said everything was working fine by about 3:20 p.m. “We’re back up, rocking and rolling,” Hutchins said.
In Mesa County, election workers at seven voting centers were instructed to offer provisional ballots to voters in line. But most people didn’t want them, said Amanda Polson, the elections director.
By Monday, local counties had received a flood of ballots.
In Montezuma County, about half the 16,000 ballots sent out were returned to the clerk’s office for tabulation, with 4,357 Republican ballots returned, and 2,008 Democrat ballots.
For Dolores County, 960 ballots had been returned (496 Republican, 239 Democrat) In San Miguel County, it was 2,486 ballots returned (1,317 Democrat, 476 Republican), and in La Plata County, 22,363 ballots had been dropped off (8,407 Democrat, 7,462 Republican).
At about 10:30 p.m., Percell said there were about 500 ballots left to count.
Overall in the state, 1.8 million ballots had been returned by Monday, with Republicans turning in about 7,300 more ballots (652,380) than Democrats (645,020). Colorado is considered a swing state in the presidential race.
In the last presidential election in 2012, more than 2.5 million Colorado voters made their voices heard.
Journal reporters Jim Mimiaga, Jacob Klopfenstein and Stephanie Alderton contributed to this article.