Secretary Williams explains campaign to educate unaffiliated voters

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams today talks with the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce’s Public Affairs Council about his office’s effort to educate unaffiliated voters about the June primary.  (SOS photo)

For the second time this month, Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams talked to the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce about this year’s primary election, where unaffiliated voters for the first time in history will be able to vote in primary elections without formally affiliating with a major political party.

The office is developing a mostly digital campaign to let unaffiliated voters know they can only mark and return a Democratic or a Republican ballot. But they can’t vote both — if they do, the votes won’t count.

“This is part of what we’re trying to convey,” Williams told the chamber’s Public Affairs Council this morning. “Make sure your vote counts.”

The secretary of state’s office recently polled unaffiliated voters.  Among the results:

  • 39 percent intend to vote in the primary
  • 33 percent don’t
  • 28 percent are undecided
  • 27 percent plan to vote in the Democratic primary
  • 12 percent plan to vote in the GOP primary

Attorney Scott Martinez, a partner with Snell & Wilmer, at the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce breakfast. (SOS photo)

Coloradans in 2016 approved Proposition 108, which allows unaffiliated voters to automatically participate in the primary election starting this year. The chamber was one of the backers of the measure, which Coloradans approved 53 percent to 47 percent.

Unaffiliated voters can use the online voter registration system to indicate whether they prefer to receive a Republican or Democratic primary ballot.  If they state a preference, their county clerk will mail them a single ballot for their preferred party.  County clerks will mail both party ballots to unaffiliated voters who do not state a preference.  In that case, voters must decide which party ballot to mark and return.

The secretary of state’s office is developing the campaign because of concerns unaffiliated voters might mark both the Democratic and Republican ballots, which would invalidate them.

Mark Truax, vice president of Pac/West Communications, asked Williams about that point.

“When they fill out both ballots, because it will happen – ” Truax said.

“ — I am SHOCKED at your lack of confidence,” Williams interrupted, feigning indignation.

“I run campaigns, Mr. Secretary,” Truax said to laughter.

The Secretary of State’s office will kick off the campaign aimed at unaffiliated voters sometime in March.

Members of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce’s Public Affairs Council listen to Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams talk about the June primary. At left is Edie Sonn with Pinnacol Assurance, and behind her is attorney Lino Lipinsky with Dentons. Across from them is Jim Carpenter with Freestone Strategies. (SOS photo)

The secretary also discussed the Russians and hacking. He noted that most counties have new equipment that allows for tracking ballots to make sure they were tabulated accurately.

“Did the Russians hack the election here? The answer is no. We are very aggressive in blocking bad actors,” Williams said.

Williams then acknowledged attorney Lino Lipinsky with the Dentons firm, who was at the meeting.

“We blocked Lino’s firm,” Williams said, and the room exploded in laughter.

When that happened, Williams received a call from a fellow El Paso County Republican, Amy Stephens, the former House majority leader who now works at Dentons. It turned out someone from the firm was doing so many searches on the Secretary of State’s website – which includes information about business filings, notaries, lobbyists, elections and more — that “our protocols kicked in,” shutting it down, the secretary said.

“In addition to blocking the Russians, we occasionally block good people,” Williams said.

“Thank you for unblocking us,” Lipinsky said.