Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams told lawmakers Tuesday that when he took office in January he inherited a cutting-edge operation that other states are looking to emulate.
He credited previous secretaries of state — Williams is the sixth person in 10 years to hold the office — for the staffers they hired and the programs they instituted for creating an operation that has won several prestigious awards.
The awards are nice, Williams said, but said “the real goal is serving the people of Colorado.”
Williams addressed a joint session of the House and Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committees as part of the legislature’s annual “SMART” act briefing. The law — formally known as the State Measurement for Accountable, Responsive and Transparent Government Act — is aimed at holding state agencies accountable by requiring them to have a mission statement, goals that correspond to that statement, and ways to track and meet those goals.
Williams outlined the functions of the office, which range from overseeing elections to registering businesses and tracking charitable organizations, with 99.5 percent of transactions occurring online.
“I’m happy to say that the Colorado Department of State stands out as one of the most professional, responsive and transparent agencies in government,” the secretary stated in his report to the two committees. “In Colorado today, it is easier to register to vote or start a business than it ever was before. As a department, we are committed to applying common sense solutions to the challenges of government.”
Two Democratic lawmakers, Rep. Su Ryden of Aurora and Sen. Matt Jones of Louisville, questioned Williams about a news release his office issued prior to the Nov. 3 election warning voters not to return their ballots by mail. Jones said he didn’t have proof, but he believed that notice contributed to the low turnout in the election. The turnout was 35.7 percent, down from the last off-year in election, in 2013, when it was 46.2 percent.
Williams said he “respectfully disagreed.” He explained the concerns with the Postal Service and noted in some counties ballots were not delivered for up to nine days after they were mailed. Because of that, he said, he didn’t want to gamble with returning ballots.
“I don’t want to tell somebody, ‘Roll the dice. Mail it because it probably will get there,'” he said.
He also pointed to a lawsuit filed after the 2014 primary where ballots that had been mailed to the clerk in what was considered a safe mailing period did not arrive until after the election was over. A judge ruled those ballots could not be counted.
Williams said ballots are typically mailed out around Columbus Day, which is a federal holiday. Proposed legislation for the 2016 session changes the day to begin mailing the ballots to the Friday before the holiday so mail service is not impacted. As for returning ballots to the clerks, Williams advocated counties install 24-hour drop boxes so constituents can drop off their ballots at any time. A number of counties, including Denver, which pioneered the practice, already use drop boxes.
The secretary also talked to lawmakers about a pilot program underway to test new voting machines. The goal is to move Colorado to a universal system rather than the patchwork system it currently uses where some equipment is so obsolete replacing it when it breaks down is impossible.
Williams broke down the department by numbers:
- 3,542,656 registered voters
- 30,360 preregistered voters
- 20,692 military and overseas voters
- More than 600,000 business entities in good standing
- More than 12,000 registered charities
- Approximately 50,000 registered nonprofits
- More than 1,198 bingo-raffle licenses issued this year
- More than 80,000 commissioned public notaries