Don't Miss the Vote! Casting an Informed Ballot in 2020

It's been a year of many things and one of those things is an election. The 2020 General Election is on Tuesday, November 3, only 23 days away. Colorado sent its mail ballots out this past Friday, October 9. In the past, I've joked about taking my sweet time to turn in my ballot. This year we've not a moment to lose, so let's cut to the chase on how you can confidently cast your vote by the time polls close.

Step 1: Registration
Are you registered to vote? Do you remember whether you are or not? Did you move? Is it more complicated for you than the things I just said? Don't worry! Colorado is one of the few states where you can register to vote until Election Day (although after October 26 you will not be able to get a mail ballot). The Secretary of State's Office manages the state's voting registration and has an FAQ to get you started.

Mail ballots started going out Friday, October 9. (Please note that Colorado settled a lawsuit with the U.S. Postal Service in September over misleading postcards mailed to voters.) If you're in Denver County, make sure to check out the Denver Elections Division page for more information about where to vote in Denver, track your ballot, etc. If you do not live in Denver County, check your local county's elections department for more information about your local election.

9News has also created a multi-part Voter's Guide with more nuts and bolts on topics like how to vote in a pandemic. The Colorado Talking Book Library has recorded and downloadable information from several sources on voters with disabilities.

Step 2: Researching the Ballot in General
Be aware: this year's ballot is huge. It's metaphorically huge in terms of determining our executive and legislative representation in Washington. It's also literally huge. I looked at a sample of Denver's ballot and it is six pages long, including eleven statewide ballot measures and twelve local ones. There is a lot of research to be done to fill out the whole ballot. 

Thankfully, Colorado works hard to inform our voters. Every election year, every mailbox should get a free copy of what is known colloquially as "the Blue Book." The Blue Book comes from the Legislative Council Staff at the Colorado General Assembly (a.k.a., The State House). The Blue Book breaks down ballot measures by offering the full text, a summary and analysis for those of us without law degrees, and arguments for and against each measure. The print version includes judicial evaluations as well.

You can also download a digital Blue Book for free (English and Spanish!). Please note that a digital version of judicial performance summaries is available online, but comes from the Office of Judicial Performance Evaluation. For those who prefer an audio format, the Colorado Talking Book Library has a recorded version that can be accessed online. (For those who use the physical cartridge, please call CTBL at 303-727-9277.)

The League of Women Voters Colorado (LWVCO) publishes their own pro/con pamphlet, which can be downloaded for free from this page in both English and Spanish. The Denver chapter also has a page with links to both state and local pro/con information. Important Distinction: The pro/con pamphlets summarize issues and positions, and are distinct from LWVCO's position statements, which express the organization's specific opinions on measures.

Denver Elections Division also publishes a ballot issue book. For those outside Denver County, check your local county's elections webpage for information about local issues. 

Denver Public Library will also be holding five virtual information sessions featuring the League of Women Voters. Click the links below to register for the following sessions:

Step 3: Researching Specific Ballot Questions
Those eleven statewide ballot measures cover a lot of ground, including wolves, property and income taxes, and paid family medical leave. It's rare to find national coverage that really sinks its teeth into what's happening in Colorado, so you'll have to seek out your trusted local media sources. What are those? I can't speak for you, but I can point out a few that you might want to check out.

The Denver Post has a paywall to online content that can prevent non-subscribers from accessing its political coverage. However, DPL's Newspapers page contains coverage from all over the country without asking you to get out your wallet. In particular, America's Newspapers gives you access to more than 100 Colorado publications. 

We are also blessed with robust, free, local media coverage. Here are a few places to get started:

  • The Colorado Sun has a comprehensive overview to the state ballot questions alongside links to specific articles that let you dig into the issues.
     
  • Colorado Public Radio's election coverage is available for free online and over the airwaves. For those without cable or a TV, CPR also broadcasts major debates live on 90.1FM. 
     
  • Recently, CPR combined forces with news site Denverite. Denverite's 2020 election coverage includes some analysis on issues local to Denver.
     
  • CPR also has podcasts, including past episodes of Colorado Matters. The political podcast Purplish dives into historical context of current politics. And for those who really want to get into the stuff about taxes and the state budget, there's a whole other podcast on just on TABOR
     
  • Local TV channels stream video and publish articles that are freely available online, and have their own versions of general election guides. Denver7 has one such guide here.

Step 4: Researching the Candidates
There are a lot of people who will appear on your ballot as well, some local and some in Washington, D.C.

National information concerning news of the presidential race is pretty well covered by resources on our Newspapers page. We have access to current, full-text versions of big-name, paywalled papers like New York Times and Wall Street Journal (plus other Major Daily Newspapers like Washington Post and Los Angeles Times). 

The most-watched race on the Front Range has former Mayor and Governor John Hickenlooper trying to snag the U.S. Senate Seat currently held by Cory Gardner. Gardner and Hickenlooper have already met for debate three times, on October 3, October 6, and October 9. The final debate between Gardner and Hickenlooper will air Tuesday, October 13, at 6 p.m. This debate will be hosted by 9News in partnership with several local media outlets so that it may be viewed statewide. Read more on 9News to learn about how to watch this debate.

Also on the ballot are all seven seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. CPR's comprehensive ballot guide has each House candidate on the issues (scroll down to see a side-by-side comparison of positions), as well as the RTD Board candidates.

Many judges are also up for re-election across Colorado. Denverite has a guide for getting through the judge retention section of Denver's ballot.

Last but not least, don't forget local candidates for the Colorado General Assembly. If you have an incumbent politician running, you can find them in the Assembly's directory to see what legislation they've participated in creating. This is where local media outlets are going to have the most information. You may also want to view personal websites or social media to gather information. Just remember: everyone is going to make themselves look good on their own website, so it's important to think critically about their claims and search across other media. I'm a big fan of video or audio interviews because I think they tell me a lot about a person.

Step 5: Recognize Misinformation and Disinformation
All election years are rife with a certain amount of spin, but many people in the information world have been raising flags about an unhealthy portion of misinformation and disinformation (sometimes called "fake news") in our current environment. Here's a couple things to help you evaluate things you see that might be distorting the truth:

  • Some of our local news stations fact-check claims on political ads. 9News's Next with Kyle Clark has a series called "Truth Tests" and CBS4's Shaun Boyd hosts a series called "Reality Check". 
     
  • There will be one session of Denver Public Library's virtual class on Disinformation and the Election on Tuesday, October 20 at 6 p.m. Register here for this virtual event.
     
  • There are fact-checking organizations dedicating to evaluating the truth of specific claims. Three reputable fact checkers are Factcheck.org, Politifact, and Snopes.
     
  • For broader information about misinformation and disinformation, there are a lot of resources out there. NPR released a Life Kit on the subject in 2019. I also found this comprehensive guide from the St. Louis Community College Library. News Literacy Project is an organization dedicated solely to media literacy, and they have some tips and tools to apply broadly to your news consumption.

Sometimes, the onus is on us readers to put on our analysis hats as we read. For example, checking into a challenger for a House of Representatives seat, I found a website full of opinionated language, buzzwords clearly aimed at a specific set of values, and personal attacks on the opponent, but short on specific strategies. When I did a wider web search, I found the same thing carried over across local media outlets: the candidate stuck to personal attacks and vague promises. Is that what I want in a candidate? Would I feel comfortable casting a vote for this person?

Step 6: Return Your Ballot
CPR reporters have found the top reason ballots are rejected are problems with the ballot signature, and have created this guide to doing your utmost to make sure your vote is counted.

Colorado Secretary of State notes that ballots must be received (not postmarked) by 7 p.m. on election night. Secretary of State has advised mailing ballots no later than October 26. After that point, they advise voting in-person or visiting a drop box.

For a map of official polling centers and drop boxes (including a few DPL locations) in Denver, visit the Denver Elections Division website. 

When it's all over, take a deep breath and congratulate yourself for making your voice heard. 

Got questions? Check out our Elections page and Ask Us or call Reference at 720.865.1363!

The image used for this blog post is by Javier Manzano and was originally published in the Rocky Mountain News in 2008. This image is part of our Digital Collections.  

Written by Lauren on October 11, 2020