Upgrades & unaffiliated voters, southeastern Colorado style

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams met with Prowers County elected officials Wednesday, including the commission, sheriff and clerk. From left to right, Commissioners Ron Cook, Tom Grasmick and Wendy Buxton-Andrade, Sheriff Sam Zordel, Secretary Williams and Clerk Jana Coen. (SOS photo)

The word of the day in two southeastern county clerk and recorders’ offices is renovation, as the Otero County clerk is temporarily operating out of a former Montgomery Ward’s store and the Prowers County clerk endured a year of dust and drilling when a new heating and air conditioning system was installed in her courthouse.

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams visited the clerks Wednesday where besides talk of remodeling the conversation centered on unaffiliated voters receiving ballots for the primary election — a first in state history.

“We’re trying to figure out a process for the unaffiliated,” Prowers County Clerk Jana Coen said.

Voters in 2016 passed Proposition 108, which allows unaffiliated voters to participate without declaring to be a member of either party.

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams and Otero County Clerk Sharon Sisnoy in her temporary headquarters. (SOS photo)

Otero County Clerk Sharon Sisnroy, like many of her colleagues, opposed Prop 108 but now that it is the law her office is dealing with it.

“Unaffiliated voters could already vote,” she said. “All they had to was affiliate with one party or the other to get a ballot and unaffiliate afterward. I do think there will be confusion about how this work.”

So do Williams and others, which is why he got legislative approval to develop a campaign to educate unaffiliated voters that they must choose between a Republican ballot or a Democratic ballot. If they return both ballots marked up, neither will count. The campaign kicks off Friday in Grand Junction.

Sisnroy is eager to leave her temporary quarters across from the courthouse and return to her office, although she is glad it is being remodeled and computer and electrical lines are being updated.

“We needed it,” she said. “It’s only been painted once in my 43 years.”

The staff left the courthouse in February and is scheduled to return April 20. Sisnroy told the contractor it can’t be any later than May 1 because “I have an election to run.”

The primary is June 26.  This November, for the first time in five elections, Sisnroy’s name will not be on the ballot. She’s retiring after after working for the clerk’s office for 43 years, the last 20 as clerk. Sisnroy was 21 when she started, she’s now 64.

“I’m B.C. — before computers,” she said, with a laugh.

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams and Prowers County Clerk Jana Coen pore over precinct maps at her office in Lamar. (SOS photo)

Coen has worked for the clerk’s office for 29 years, the last nine as clerk. One of her duties is

taking notes for the Prowers County Board of Commissioners, which is where Williams found her when he arrived at the courthouse in Lamar.

It’s a familiar scene for Williams: He served two terms as an El Paso County commissioner and one term as county clerk,  which is one reason he is sensitive to their issues, particularly costs.

Williams pointed out his office provided funding to Prowers County to install a 24-hour ballot drop box . That gives voters round-the-clock  access for dropping off their ballots and ensures they get to the clerk’s office on time. Prowers also received money for training when it switched to Dominion Voting Systems, equipment Williams selected after an eight- county, four-firm pilot program in 2015. And he got the legislature to agree to pay for a presidential primary in 2020. At the same time voters approved Proposition 108, they also passed Proposition 107, which creates a presidential primary.

“I didn’t think it was fair for counties to have to pay for three elections in a presidential year,” Williams said, referring the presidential primary, the primary and general election.

After meeting with the commission, he and Coen adjourned to her office. The courthouse project, which began a year ago, is almost finished and Coen is thankful for that. The work was noisy so trying to hear customers was a challenge and the white dust from the plaster walls made cleaning a chore.

Lamar Mayor Roger Stagner, his wife, Leslie, and Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams Wednesday in Lamar. Williams worked on transportation as an El Paso County commissioner and he and the mayor had a lengthy discussion about the huge Main Street project underway in the town. (SOS project)

Coen thanked Williams for making the trip to Prowers County, which abuts the Kansas state line.

“We’re glad that the secretary of state takes the time to visit with us and learns about our concerns,” she said.