Election quirks no big deal

Students and general public cast their vote at the polls at Colorado Mesa University on Tuesday, November 6, 2018.

Computer glitches, long lines and even a fire alarm didn't prevent Mesa County from being the first county in Colorado to post early results on Tuesday.

The county in recent years has always been one of the first — if not the first — to display results from early voting before any other county clerk's office in the state. On Tuesday, the county was the first to post results shortly after 7 p.m., the earliest the law allows. The various obstacles that popped up during the day — including some unusually long lines at the voting center in the University Center at Colorado Mesa University — weren't anything Mesa County Clerk Sheila Reiner said her staff couldn't handle.

"It was a volume issue," Reiner said of the lines at CMU. "We had a higher turnout than we were prepared for. We only had two ICX (voting machines) there (at CMU), and we didn't provide the election staff with enough of the mail ballot envelopes."

Instead of making voters wait for those voting machines, elections staff could have used paper ballots. But those ballots can only be used if there are official yellow ballot envelopes to put them in.

When Reiner visited the polling center at about 1 p.m. Tuesday, she immediately discovered why so many voters, not all of whom were students, were having to wait so long. She immediately ordered a new voting machine for the center, as well as more envelopes.

"I advised the election judges to start issuing in-person paper, and got the line to start to move," she said. "They stayed busy like that even though we added another computer. We added a person and a computer operator, and the line still stayed long."

Reiner said historically the CMU polling center never sees that many in-person voters. She said she asked some people in line — after advising them that other vote centers elsewhere in the county weren't so backed up — why they weren't using their mail-in ballots.

"From what I heard and witnessed, it was, 'Yeah, I saw that in the mail but don't know where it's at,'" Reiner said. "I don't know why, but many of them just got energized to vote."

Other minor issues occurred at the Clifton Hall and Mesa County Central Services Building voting centers, which had some minor computer issues. There, the biggest problems were computers locking up. As a result, some people were still voting in Clifton at 9:30 p.m.

Reiner said all polling centers had more than 2,200 in-person voters and more than 64,500 mail ballots. With 93,250 active registered voters in the county, that's a 72 percent turnout — the same as four years ago.

Voting at the Fruita Civic Center polling place was going smoothly until the fire alarm went off.

City officials told Reiner they checked the security cameras at the center and it appeared that someone leaning against the wall inadvertently triggered the alarm.

Fruita Public Works Director Ken Haley told Reiner that it didn't appear intentional, saying the alarm wasn't pulled, but it was damaged.

Statewide, about 17,400 more Democrats than Republicans had cast ballots by the end of voting on Tuesday, according to the Colorado Secretary of State's Office. But while Democrats were motivated to vote, more unaffiliated voters ended up casting more ballots than either party, with most of them coming in the final two days of voting.

A week ago, only 36 percent of unaffiliated voters had cast a ballot. By Tuesday, however, 852,450 of them had voted. Consequently, 66 percent of all active registered unaffiliated voters had cast a ballot.

Statewide, more than 2.5 million ballots were cast. That constitutes a 74 percent turnout among active voters. In the 2016 presidential election, turnout was 86 percent, while in 2014, during the last midterm elections, it was 69 percent.

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