By Lynn Bartels and Julia Sunny
Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams told county clerks at a regional gathering this week that his office is reviewing how to implement voter-approved ballot measures, including one that changes signature gathering for ballot proposals.
Amendment 71 requires that any new constitutional amendment pass with 55 percent of the vote instead of a simple majority. In addition, a percentage of the signatures to put the measure on the ballot must be gathered in all 35 Senate districts, which will change how the state reviews petitions to determine whether backers collected enough valid voter signatures.
“Our job is to help you and to help the voters,” Williams told the clerks. “You’re the ones out there on the front lines.”
When Williams asked how many clerks had fewer than five voters the first Saturday they were required to open for early voting, almost everyone raised their hand. Montezuma County Clerk Kim Percell was an exception, saying her office handled 20 voters the first Saturday but she noted she “really advertised it a lot.” Even then, she said, the 20 came in the last of the four hours her office was required to be open.
A bill winding through the Colorado Legislature would allow clerks to lessen requirements at the start of early voting so that resources can be directed closer to the election, when business is brisk. Williams recently published a piece in The Denver Post saying counties need flexibility to better serve their voters.
Clerks had plenty of kudos for Williams and his staff, including the office’s assistance in helping pay for 24-hour secure ballot drop boxes.
“That is something we could not have budgeted for,” Rio Grande County Clerk Cindy Hill said.
Bent County Clerk Patti Nickell said 30 percent of her voters used the drop box installed outside the courthouse shortly before the general election last year.
Susan Balicki, the elections supervisor for Park County, singled out two Secretary of State staffers, Ben Schler and Jessi Romero, for their assistance during a recall election.
“They were such a help,” she said. “I just want you to know.”
As for ballot measures voters approved in 2016, Williams addressed the portion of Amendment 71 requiring signature collection in all Senate districts.
“Instead of just collecting signatures in Denver if it’s a liberal issue or El Paso County if it’s a conservative issue, petition signature gatherers actually have to visit the rest of the state,” Williams said. “So they actually have to go into (Alamosa Republican) Larry Crowder’s Senate district and they have to go into (Montrose Republican) Don Coram’s Senate district. You might actually see, for the first time ever, some petition gatherers in some of your counties.”
Senate Bill 152, which implements the changes made by Amendment 71, has passed the Senate and is in the House.
Williams also addressed Propositions 107 and 108. The first requires the state to hold presidential primaries, and allows unaffiliated voters to participate without affiliating with a major party. The latter allows unaffiliated voters to participate in primary elections held every two years in June, again without affiliating.
“Proposition 108 provides that unaffiliated voters get a ballot or they get two ballots or they get some combination of that,” Williams said. “We’re working with a group of county clerks to come up with a system that allows us to comply with the law that got passed and be able to accurately canvas the election.”
He said he hopes to release preliminary regulations in in the next few months.
“We’re doing that so that as you put together your budgets you know what the costs are because there is going to be an increased cost. You’re going to have to mail to 50 percent more people on average,” Williams said.
Colorado’s county clerks are divided into four regions: central, west, east and south. Clerks in those regions meet for training and such. Twice a year, all the regions gather for the winter and summer conferences. The Colorado County Clerks Association has announced the summer conference will be in Snowmass in June.