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Ballot count finalized, math adds up

The final counts for Longmont make Joan Peck the official mayor of Longmont. It also names Shiquita Yarbrough and Aren Rodriguez the official winners of the Longmont At-large seats in the 2021 Coordinated Election.
2021 Ballot (1 of 4)
Ballot for the Nov 2 2021 election

Several weeks after the last ballot was cast, Boulder County’s Election Division has certified the final votes.

The final counts for Longmont make Joan Peck the official mayor of Longmont. It also names Shiquita Yarbrough and Aren Rodriguez the official winners of the Longmont At-large seats in the 2021 Coordinated Election. 

So what took so long for that final tally and certification? 

The answer is a multi-step process of audits, verifications and checks and balances to ensure fairness in the election process and accurate final results, according to Boulder County Clerk & Reporter’s Office Community Specialist Mircalla Wozniak. The process can take weeks to complete. 

Since the Nov. 2 Coordinated Election, counties throughout the state performed final vote tabulations, recorded military and overseas ballots, “cured” votes and perform the mandatory post-election risk-limiting audit required by the state of Colorado to verify the accuracy of the election process.

The deadline for overseas ballots and vote “curing” — when voters address missing signatures or signature discrepancies for their ballot to be counted — was Nov. 8. After which, each ballot signature was verified by bipartisan election judges, matched through state voter records, the Department of Motor Vehicles and other public records. 

Two weeks after the election, the bipartisan canvass board for each county begans the post-election audit, which is known as the statewide Risk-limiting Audit, or RLA, according to Wozniak. The audit is seen as the “gold standard” for election security,  she said. 

Colorado is one of the first states to perform the RLA beginning in 2017, with 63 of 64 counties performing a bipartisan post-election audit — San Juan County being the one county still fully tabulating votes by hand due to a small population size of 719 active voters and 384 ballots counted.

“In addition to all the measures taken before and during the election to secure the voting process, an audit ensures to a high degree of certainty that the election outcomes are correct,” stated the Colorado Election fact sheet.

The audit process in each county is done with full transparency and is open for public review, according to the Colorado Secretary of State’s fact sheet and FAQ. Using a seed number generated by a series of dice rolls, the state determined the number of ballots each county must randomly select to perform the audit based on the margin of the race. From there, those select ballots were verified against voting software and the bipartisan canvass board.

Once the audit was complete, the canvass board certified the votes through a majority approval, Wozniak said. In Boulder County the 2021 board included County Clerk Molly Fitzpatrick, Lynne McNamara representing the Democratic Party and Joseph Green representing the Republican Party. All three representatives signed off on the election this year, but only two of the three representatives are required, Wozniak said.

Once the RLA was completed and the votes certified, the counties released the official summary of votes that included the number of active voters, ballot totals and vote counts — including over- and undervotes. 

Wozniak said over- and undervotes are common in most elections, when voters aren’t interested in a particular race or in the case of Boulder and Longmont’s recent city council elections, where one race required multiple choices from voters. 

Overvotes occured when there were more votes on one ballot than a particular race allowed. In the Longmont at-large race, voters were able to vote for two candidates. Picking three candidates is considered an overvote, but only disqualifies the votes of the single race and not an entire ballot. 

Likewise, an undervote is when a voter picks only one candidate in the race — because they only supported one candidate in the race or weren’t aware they could pick two. An undervote doesn’t invalidate a ballot or the vote in that race, Wozniak said.

In the 2021 coordinated election, Longmont’s City Council At-Large contest recorded 28,845 ballots cast. Of those ballots 9,894 were recorded as undervotes and only 119 were counted as overvotes. By comparison, in the 2019 coordinated election, voters were able to select one candidate for the Longmont City Council At-Large contest. The results were 2,873 undervotes and 120 overvotes from a total of 31,309 ballots.

At first glance, the spread between the number of ballots and the number of votes counted can be startling. Wozniak said that too has a simple explanation. 

When a race like Longmont’s At-Large seat allows voters to choose multiple candidates, each vote for a candidate is counted for that particular race, making it seem as though there are more votes than ballots. Taking into account over- and undervotes in the council race, the difference becomes more clear. 

For example, with 28,845 ballots counted in Boulder County for Longmont’s elections, there were 27,722 votes for mayor split between three candidates with 1,120 undervotes and 3 overvotes. For the multiple choice At-Large seat, a total of 47,558 votes were tabulated between six candidates. Taking into account over- and undervotes that brings the total to 56,971 votes, divided by two equalling 28,485 — just under the number of ballots submitted. 

Colorado’s election process was redesigned in 2013 with mail-ballot and flexible in-person voting options in mind. Security and veracity were baked into the process, aided by election judges and staff throughout the state to ensure each ballot is recorded. Through rigorous testing before and after an election and full transparency throughout the process at every level, Colorado elections are more secure than ever, Wozniak said.

“There are just an enormous amount of checks and balances throughout the process. The election judges appointed by the political parties are there every step of the way,” Wozniak said. 

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