Instructions accompanying Gunnison County ballots this year have caused widespread confusion over the appearance that identification must be submitted in order for votes to count.
However, officials with the Gunnison County Clerk and Recorder’s office assure that identification is not required for most voters. The clerk’s office is attempting to alleviate any confusion with a postcard-like mailer planned to be sent to households late this week.
The message in question within the instructions to voters for the Nov. 6 election reads: “An ‘ID’ means you must submit identification with your ballot for your vote to be counted. This is located on the return envelope label.” The language then lists acceptable forms of identification for which a photocopy can be included with the ballot.
The language caught Gunnison’s Gary Sherman off guard when he opened his ballot last week, spurring him to consult with the clerk’s office. Sherman fears that the confusing message will inadvertently lead to people deciding not to vote.
“There will be a lot of people, especially last-minute voters, who will say, ‘That’s just another step. I’m not going to mess with it. I’m not going to vote,’” he said. “It does not clearly spell out if you need a photo ID or not — except it says that if you don’t have one, your ballot won’t be counted.”
Diane Folowell, chief deputy clerk of elections for Gunnison County, explained that the language is nothing new. However, officials with the Colorado Secretary of State’s (SOS) office did change the color of the verbiage this year to red, which seems to have drawn greater attention to the notice.
“It’s the same instructions that we’ve always used,” she added. “If (SOS) doesn’t change it next year, we’re going to change it because it’s really confusing.”
The message refers to a label on return envelopes. That is, unless the ballot materials contain a label stating “ID” or “ID required,” voters do not need to provide a photo-copied version of an acceptable form of identification with their completed ballot.
Such a label would only exist if a voter registered without providing such an acceptable form. And even then, a process exists for votes to be counted when an acceptable form of identification is not provided.
“Even if they return it without their ID and it's ID insufficient, they are not going to get that vote thrown out,” Folowell clarified. “We’re going to send them a letter and give them eight days to what we call ‘cure’ that (ballot).”
However, heightening confusion and suspicion over the language in the instructions, Gunnison’s Sherman was provided a photo of an instruction sheet from Pueblo County, which was completely different than the one that accompanied local ballots.
“Whether it’s intentional or not, this is voter suppression,” said Sherman. “There are going to be people who won’t vote because they think you have to have a photocopy of your ID.”
The Pueblo County instructions say specifically that the voter does not need to supply an ID.
As for the discrepancy, Folowell explained that this year — as is the case in every election — the county clerk’s office was given an option between three different sets of voter instructions. Gunnison County chose the same version of instructions that it’s used for years. However, other counties may have opted for a different set of instructions that includes language that is more clear.
“For whatever reason, it is no longer working,” she said of the language on local ballots.
The postcard-like mailer the clerk’s office planned to send out this week draws attention to circumstances under which a voter would be required to provide identification — and those that they would not.
Gunnison County Clerk Kathy Simillion said she’s seen no indication that the change was in any way an attempt to suppress votes.
“We just want to make sure that everybody who’s eligible to vote has an opportunity to vote and they’re able to cast their ballot and can be assured that their vote counts,” she said.
For additional information, contact the Gunnison County Clerk’s office at 970.641.1516.
(Will Shoemaker can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)