More than 35,000 newly registered Colorado voters could see their mail ballots tossed out because of confusion over the need to include a copy of their ID with their votes.
The state requires county clerks to verify the identification of all new voters. Often, it's as simple as comparing a driver's license number on a voter registration form to the state's motor vehicle database.
But when that check runs into trouble — in cases, for example, when the license number is copied down incorrectly — county clerks want to see the identification.
This year has seen an unprecedented surge in voter registrations. And according to the Colorado Secretary of State's Office, as of Monday 35,620 first-time voters whose identity had not been verified requested mail ballots.
Those voters should have been instructed to photo copy their driver's license or other identification and include it when they mailed back their ballots. If they fail to, the ballots will be treated as though they are provisional.
That means county clerks will attempt after the election to verify the identity of the voter. If they can't, the ballots will be disqualified.
"They're not really registered," said Douglas County Clerk and Recorder Jack Arrowsmith of voters whose identity can't be verified.
Campaigns and get-out-the vote efforts have been aimed at educating new voters about the rule.
"We are working on making sure people know about that requirement," said Steve Fenberg, executive director of New Era Colorado, which registered nearly 12,000 new voters this year. "It should be pretty clear in their ballot if they need to do it."
But — like Colorado election laws — it can be confusing.
Take the case of James Haynes, a 38-year-old middle-school teacher who moved to Brighton in August from California.
He and his wife downloaded voter registration forms and mailed them in on the same day, requesting to vote by mail.
The couple received their mail ballots a week apart and their ballots had different colored stripes on the return envelopes.
Haynes said he carefully read the instructions and found no indication that he needed to include a copy of his identification with his ballot. But just to be sure, he took his and his wife's ballots to an Adams County early voting site.
There, he said, he was told his ballot required him to provide his identification, but his wife's didn't. A motor vehicle office employee copied his California driver's license and put it in the envelope with the ballot.
Haynes said the directions are confusing and he's received conflicting information from poll workers and people at the elections office when he called.
"If I had mailed it in, I think it would have been rejected without knowing why," he said. "My concern is other people send it in (without a copy of ID) and how many ballots are going to be rejected?"
Shawn Siemsen, another first-time voter in Adams County, had a similar experience.
The fine print on his ballot indicated he did not need to provide a copy of his identification.
He stopped at a motor vehicle office in Westminster to drop off his ballot. A clerk saw a red mark on his envelope — a cue in that county that he is a new voter whose ID hadn't been verified. She asked Siemsen whether he put a copy of his driver's license inside.snip