Colorado will lose some of its longtime county clerks

Bent County Clerk Patti Nickell, in her office in Las Animas, holds up the sugar cookies she made for Secretary of State Wayne Williams. (SOS photo)

Two of Colorado’s longest serving county clerks told Secretary of State Wayne Williams Monday their decision not to run for re-election this year is a bittersweet one.

“I have very mixed emotions,” said Crowley County Clerk Lucile Nichols, who began working in the Clerk & Recorder’s office in 1972 and was first elected clerk in 1994.

“I have enjoyed the job but it’s 45 years of a lifestyle coming to an end.”

Bent County Clerk Patti Nickell has served as the clerk for 32 years. “It feels weird,” she said, of leaving. “It really does.”

A number of small and rural counties do not have term limits for clerks. Larger counties do so clerks turn over every four or eight years, but what makes 2018 unusual is the number of longtime clerks who are saying goodbye to registering vehicles, running elections, recording documents and many, many, more duties.

Others who are retiring after this year include Otero County Clerk Sharon Sisnroy, who will also have spent 43 years in the office, and Washington County Clerk Garland Wahl, who was first elected to the post in 1982.

“We are losing decades of experience,” Williams said.

Crowley County Clerk Lucile Nichols shares Girl Scout cookies with Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams during his visit to her office in Ordway Monday. (SOS photo)

During visits to Nickell in Las Animas and Nichols in Ordway — yes, their last names are pronounced the same — the clerks both served cookies to the secretary.

They discussed the upcoming primary, which is going to be a first for Colorado because unaffiliated voters will be allowed to participate without declaring to be a Republican or Democrat. Unaffiliated voters will have to choose whether to vote the Republican ballot or the Democratic ballot, but if they mark both their votes won’t count.

“I’m just so ‘How is this going to work with the unaffiliated?’ It’s going to be difficult,” Nichols said. “They’re going to vote one person on one ballot and one person on another ballot.”

The Secretary of State’s office is developing a campaign to target the state’s 1,163,751 active unaffiliated voters to let them know to only vote one ballot for the June 26 primary. If someone does mark both ballots, the clerk’s office will keep the ballots as an election record, but won’t count them. Because the ballots will have been removed from the secrecy sleeve by then, there is no way knowing who that voter is and contacting that person about the mistake.

Republicans will still receive a ballot with GOP candidates while Democrats will receive the Democratic ballot. In the general election in November, voters can voter for any candidate, any party they like.

Williams spoke to the Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce last week about the education effort.  He said the office recently polled unaffiliated voters and found:

  • 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.
Secretary of State Wayne Williams ate lunch with Bent County officials after visiting Monday with Clerk Patti Nickell in her office in Las Animas. From left going clockwise: Nikkell, former commission chairman Bill Long, commissioners Jean Sykes and Kim MacDowell, Williams and county manager Calvin Feik. (SOS photo)