Colorado county clerks are gearing up for an especially challenging November with several changes to the upcoming election cycle, including new voting equipment and primary election rules.
On Saturday, La Plata County Clerk and Recorder Tiffany Parker and Election Administrator Erin Hutchins educated voters about these changes at the Durango Public Library.
The forum, "What's New and What's True: An Explanation of the Election Process in La Plata County," was hosted by the League of Women Voters of La Plata County and attracted an engaged crowd of about 40 people.
"I want to give you guys more of an idea about all of the checks and balances we have to ensure that your vote is counted and counted properly," Hutchins said.
For the first time in Colorado history, unaffiliated voters will be able to participate in the primaries without declaring to be a member of either the Democrat or Republican party.
The change comes after Coloradans voted in favor of Proposition 108 last November, meaning unaffiliated voters will receive a Republican and Democratic ballot in the mail for the 2018 primaries, but should only return one.
"One packet, two ballots," Parker said. "It is up to you to only vote one of those. You cannot cross party lines. If you vote both ballots and return it, it is a rejected packet and I cannot do anything about it."
There's another change coming to the voters, as well. Outdated voting systems posed a risk of jeopardizing Colorado elections, leading to the implementation of Dominion Voting Systems equipment, which makes elections easier to run, Hutchins said.
"We got new equipment that I am so excited about," she said. "This equipment has affected our mail-ballot processing."
La Plata County previously used 21-year-old tabulation equipment before adopting the new system, along with 53 other counties across Colorado.
"As a county clerk, I was very involved at the state level testing the equipment to see what would work best for us and our county," Parker said.
There is also no voter registration deadline in Colorado any longer.
"Back East, they think we are crazy," Parker said. "It's fun to go to conferences and hear them say, 'Oh my gosh, you give everybody a mail ballot and you're not doing registration deadlines?' It's called opportunity."
Hutchins and Parker fielded a number of questions from the audience about hacking, and did their best to assuage any fears about voter fraud.
"(The equipment) had to meet extremely high standards for us to use it," Hutchins said. "In-person voting is done on a tablet, and the wi-fi has been disabled by the Secretary of State's Office. ... There is no way to turn it on or for someone to get into it."
The new equipment does not tally votes; instead, it prints a ballot that goes into a secured ballot box where it is later tallied manually.
"Our system is not networked whatsoever," Hutchins said. "There are a lot of misconceptions that it can be hacked, and it cannot. It's very secure, and it's a very meticulous process for us."