County clerk and recorders aren’t usually in the business of chasing headlines. But in the past few months Jeffco Clerk and Recorder George Stern has been a subject of stories in not only local …
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County clerk and recorders aren’t usually in the business of chasing headlines. But in the past few months Jeffco Clerk and Recorder George Stern has been a subject of stories in not only local newspapers but also USA Today and CNN.
The reason? Stern’s interest in promoting public confidence in Colorado’s seven-year-old vote-by-mail system, which he calls the best voting system of the country, at a time when mail-in voting has become a frequent target of President Trump.
“I do think it’s important for me and certainly the Secretary of State and clerks from both parties to make sure we are being clear about how good our Colorado election system is,” said Stern.
While educating people about Colorado’s voting system is always important, Stern said it has felt more important than ever this year as mail-in voting has faced attacks from the president and others, creating more public uncertainty about the process.
“Presidential years always seem to have the rhetoric heat up and we are in the thick of that right now,” said Stern. “And then COVID-19 has added on top of that with many states moving to new voting systems and their being uncertainties about it.
Stern said his office has tried to provide information and transparency about the county’s voting process not only by doing frequent media interviews but also by posting videos about the county voting system and conducting tours of the county’s election building (this year those tours are being conducted virtually with the public able to ask questions online).
He thinks it’s helping, although he said there is still a “a lot of work to do to make people feel even more comfortable.”
So what does Stern actually want the public to know about Jefferson County’s election system?
That it improves both election accessibility and security, for one. Stern said Colorado’s turnout has gone up over the course of the last seven years and Colorado is consistently in the top few states for turnout in the country.
“That’s because of how convenient it is,” said Stern. “Everyone gets a ballot three weeks ahead of time, they’ve got a number of ways to turn those ballots into us and take their time with it and research the issues.”
Colorado’s system is also more secure, he said. The ballots are paper and stored for two years, which allows for “a 100% paper trail with anyone being able to inspect ballots,” Stern said. Ballots must also be signed and every signature is verified against the signature the signature the voter wrote when they got their driver’s license (voters will be notified if there is an issue with their signature and have a chance to correct it).
The process is also conducted out in the open, Stern said, with election judges from both parties present and members of the public also able to come observe.
And if all that doesn’t convince you, perhaps the numbers will.
“The Heritage Foundation, which is a self-proclaimed conservative organization, has found nine instances of fraud in Colorado since we started doing this seven years and in that time $16 million people have voted,” said Stern. “So we are at less than one in a million instances of fraud which show the system is working and working quite well.”
One aspect of the process Stern cannot control is the post office — and that’s one that happens to be getting a lot of attention right now which is why Stern recommends voters use drop boxes rather than mailing their ballot (and mail their ballot at least eight days ahead of Election Day if they must do so).
“Trusting the voting system is critically important to make sure that people are participating in it and believing the results of it,” said Stern. “And so anytime someone has questions or doubts about our system we like to make sure we’re correcting the record, putting out facts and representing the great system that we have.”
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