The Douglas County School District’s impressive program that uses high schools as voting centers and students as election judges grew out of frustration with the 2006 election.
That year, voters in Douglas — and Denver County — stood in long lines for hours or skipped voting.
Jack Arrowsmith, sworn in as Douglas County clerk and recorder in 2007, said a review of what went wrong determined in part the county needed better polling locations and a variety of election judges.
“Sometimes out of adversity, really good things happen,” Arrowsmith told the Douglas County Board of Education at its work study session Tuesday night.
Arrowsmith was part of a delegation of officials that presented the Board of Education with a NASS Medallion award from the National Association of Secretaries of State for “its leadership and determination in making available facilities for polling places.”
Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams told the board that one county clerk wanted to install a ballot drop box outside a state-owned community college, but was turned way.
“They response they got was, ‘That’s not part of our mission,’” he said. “So I’m here to say, ‘Thank you for recognizing it is part of your mission.’”
Williams also pointed out that while he nominated the board for the NASS award, the national organization had to sign off on it.
“This is not candy that gets passed out to every trick or treater who shows up,” Williams said. “This is something that has to be earned.”
Williams said when he served as the El Paso County clerk and recorder, a school district that had agreed to allow the use of a building withdrew its offer right before the election, leaving his office “scrambling to find a replacement site.”
Arrowsmith said no one on the current Douglas County board of education served when the project kicked off with the 2008 election so some historical context was needed. He explained that he and elections director Sheri Lewis approached Douglas County Superintendent Jim Christiansen.
“I remember turning to Sheri at the time and saying, ‘What do you think Jim is going to do? Is there any chance he’s willing to listen to what we have to say?'” Arrowsmith said. “I said, ‘Jim, there are a lot of taxpayers in Douglas county who no longer have school-age children and wouldn’t it be a great use of schools to show here is another use for these wonderful facilities It was a tough election and everybody really wanted to improve the process.”
Arrowsmith said he also contacted then-Secretary of State Mike Coffman to ask him to change the rule that only one student judge could work at a polling place. It was expanded to 50 percent.
Student election judges get paid the same as adults but it was Christiansen who noted the teens already were getting public service credits for their work so the money should be directed to a student activity of the judge’s choice. Davis told the board that including this election, nearly $57,000 will have been paid to various programs at Douglas County high schools.
The nine high schools are closed for the general election because the district, the teachers and the citizens agreed to move one of the professional development days from a Friday to Election Day although that would eliminate a three-day weekend. Voters have choice parking.
“It was miraculous that all these pieces fell into place. It certainly is a tribute to Douglas County school (officials) who believe stepping forward is a civic responsibility,” Arrowsmith said. “It really is a shining example to the rest of the state.”
He praised Davis, former school administrator Pat McGraw whose “vision and leadership” launched the program, Douglas County Clerk Merlin Klotz for continuing the program when he took office and Davis for her work over the years.
This is the second time the program has received a national award. In 2012 it received one of the six “Stars and Stripes Award” handed out by the Election Center to recognize partnerships.
Williams last year handed out NASS Medallion Awards to former Secretary of State Donetta Davidson and attorney John Moye.