You need to put two stamps on your ballot this year — and other voting-by-mail facts

4 min. read
Ballots are sorted for mailing in a massive machine inside the U.S. Postal Service’s sorting and shipping facility in Stapleton, Oct. 16, 2018.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Reader Marci Radin asked: How much is postage for mailing your Denver ballot?

If you haven't voted already, you might also be wondering. The cost is 71 cents, so use two stamps! If you're still planning to stick your ballot in the mail, you should do so by Wednesday, Oct. 31 to make sure it gets in on time, and don't forget to sign it with the same signature you used when you registered or else it may be rejected.

If you're still scratching your head on those many ballot issues and candidates, we have handy election guides for the state and local races.

If you're a logistics nerd, you might also enjoy this look into the letter belly of the U.S. Postal Service mail beast that's off Quebec Street in Stapleton.

Or maybe you're wondering about all those ballots that went missing for a little while.

Last week, I got to walk around the sprawling facility that processes 800 trucks of mail a day.

Alton Dillard, spokesman for the Denver Elections Division, said that the county spent $40,700 this year to mail them all out. That's a lot of postage!

"It definitely helps our bottom line," said David Rupert, who speaks for USPS, "but more importantly it helps democracy."

Inside the letter belly of the mail beast. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Of the 5 million people who live in Colorado, about 3.3 million are registered to vote. That's according to Caleb Thornton, who works with the Secretary of State's office.

The USPS facility, which is the size of seven football fields, is the central nexus for sending out materials to each of the state's 64 counties.

Dillard said that 92 percent of Denver voters filled out the ballots they got in the mail to vote in the 2016 election. Of those, only 20 percent actually mailed it back, the rest dropped theirs off at polling stations or in the city's drop boxes.

Denver Elections spokesman Alton Dillard poses for a portrait. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Colorado is one of three states that mail out ballots to every single voter. It's a system Secretary of State Wayne Williams has said makes us "a leader in election administration."

Colorado moved to a full mail-in system after legislation directing the state to do so passed in 2013. Before that, Dillard said, our election process was a confusing patchwork of systems. Some races allowed for mail-in voting, others required that a voter was participating as an absentee. Things differed between state and municipal levels. Now, he said, everyone's on the same page.

Outgoing ballots feed into a sorting machine. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The mail-in system is seen as a way to increase access for people who want to participate and keep the process secure. While election materials are handled in a separate stream from other mail, Rupert said ballots don't get any extra securing inside the USPS facility. All mail is secure.

Just in case, though, state election officials have practiced for an "election apocalypse," in the event that ballots are compromised.

But despite the system's high praise, it hasn't been 100 percent smooth sailing this year. About 61,000 ballots bound for Adams County recently went missing, although they were eventually recovered and delivered.

Denver's ballots cost more than the 50 cent standard to mail because there's so much in there this year, though Dillard said comparing our fees to other districts is not a fair way to judge civic engagement across the state.

Still, he added, "It has been an active year."

Outbound ballots arrive at the USPS facility on pallets. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Kim Padilla then removes them from packaging and feeds the ballots into a sorting machine. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
The sorting machine is a little bit enthralling to watch. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
The machine sorts ballots according to their eventual destination. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Sorting divvies ballots up by county and city. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Jane Huyng then moves ballots into crates to be distributed to mail carriers. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Ballots eventually get shipped to carriers. When you mail them back, they're stored at postal hubs where election officials come to pick them up and bring them to be counted by <a href="">their own fancy machines</a>. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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