Colorado’s county clerks contend with democracy and DRIVES

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams joined three members of the Arapahoe County Clerk’s office for a scenic photo outside the Salida SteamPlant where the Colorado County Clerks Association held its summer conference Aug. 20-22. From left to right, Williams, spokeswoman Haley McKean, Clerk Matt Crane and election manager Todd Davidson. (SOS photo)

Colorado’s county clerks gathered in Salida for their summer conference, combining educational workshops on various topics, such as election security, with lighthearted events, including visiting an arcade.

For some, the Colorado County Clerks Association conference was a bittersweet experience — more than one-fourth of the 64 county clerks will run their last election on Nov. 6. Some have decades of experience and have decided it is time to retire, others are term limited or choose not to stay in office.

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, back row, left, mingles with county clerks at the opening night reception for the clerks summer conference in Salida Aug. 20-22. Front row: Lincoln County’s Corrine Lengel, Yuma County’s Bev Wenger, and Baca County’s Sharon Dubois. Back row, Williams, Logan County’s Pam Bacon and Adams County’s Stan Martin. (SOS photo)

“Working in the clerk’s office has been a wonderful, exciting ride,” said Moffat County Clerk Lila Herod, who began in 1989, eventually was elected clerk and now is term limited.

“I have been truly blessed to serve the citizens of Moffat County and to be in the company of the smartest, most dedicated, hardworking people in the world.”

Secretary of State Wayne Williams updated clerks on a variety of topics his office is handling.

“I served as El Paso County’s clerk and recorder so I understand what our clerks go through. They don’t just run elections. They record documents and register vehicles and more,” Williams said. “Our office is here to help them in any way we can.”

The clerks praised Williams and his staff for their efforts.

Chaffee County Clerk Lori Mitchell, president of the Colorado County Clerks Association, and Secretary of State Williams at the opening night reception of the clerks conference in Salida Aug. 19. (SOS photo)

Chaffee County Clerk Lori Mitchell, who is president of the clerks association, hosted the event at the Salida SteamPlant Event Center on the Arkansas River.

The conference was smaller than usual as some clerks and staffers stayed behind to catch up, in part because the offices were closed earlier this month when the Colorado Department of Revenue replaced its decades old computer system that handles Motor Vehicle transactions.

The project is called the Colorado Driver License, Record, Identification and Vehicle Enterprise Solution or DRIVES. All clerks but one handle license plate renewals and vehicle registrations and some also issue driver’s licenses.

One day at the conference was spent on Motor Vehicle issues, where Department of Revenue Director Michael Hartman showed up to talk to the clerks about DRIVES. Another day was devoted to election issues, including cybersecurity.

Hilary Rudy, the deputy elections director for the Colorado Secretary of State’s office, talks about the 2018 primary election during the clerks conference in Salida. With her on the panel are Pam Anderson, executive director of the Colorado County Clerks Association, Chaffee County Clerk Lori Mitchell, the CCCA president, and Adams County elections director Christi Coburn. (SOS photo)

Judd Choate, the elections director for the state of Colorado, revealed the results of a “phishing exercise,” where, with the cooperation with county clerks from 24 Colorado counties, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security sent each participating county official as many as six fake e-mails.

Every e-mail was opened at least twice and one was clicked on by 19 percent of the county officials.

“These e-mails had links that could have allowed a hacker to take over the participant’s computer — if the phishing attempts were real,” Choate said.”In general the counties did a great job, but there is definitely room for improvement.”

David Becker, the executive director and founder of the Center for Election Innovation & Research, displayed a series of articles on election security that he said were misleading and inaccurate. Dealing with misinformation, he said, is a huge problem and erodes voter confidence.

During Secretary Williams’ presentation, he discussed:

* The success of the UChooseCO program aimed at educating unaffiliated voters about the 2018 primary election. It was the first time they could automatically participate in the primary but they had to choose between the Republican or Democratic ballot or neither one counted. Some officials feared the rejection rate would be as high as 7 percent, but it was 2.36 percent statewide. Williams thanked the clerks for their efforts.

Michelle Batey, director of the Electronic Recording Technology Board; Mike Beasley, lobbyist for the Colorado County Clerks Association; and Dwight Shellman, county support manager for the Colorado Secretary of State’s office, at the clerks conference in Salida. (SOS photo)

* The Electronic Recording Technology Board, which is housed in the SOS office. The board’s mission is to develop, maintain, improve, replace or preserve land records systems in Colorado, some of which is obsolete.

So far, the board has collected $1.2 million in fees and 17 counties have received $932,000.

“This has been a game changer for customer service,” Williams said.

* Legislation passed by the Colorado General Assembly, including a measure supported by the Secretary of State’s office that eliminates redundant language in section on judicial retention. In all, the legislature referred six measures to the Nov. 6 general election ballot. Seven measures were referred by citizens, and the Secretary of State’s office is still processing the signatures.

The conference format was a switch from previous years, where sessions were scheduled at the same time and attendees had to pick and choose which ones to sit in on. A number of clerks liked the change, as well as the non-conference tasting food prepared by local caterers.

“It was a very relaxed format, even though all the clerks are feeling stressed due to the DRIVES implementation and deadlines with elections,” Yuma County Clerk Beverly Wenger said, adding she was able to visit with some clerks she had never spent much time with before.

Ouray County Clerk Michelle Nauer and Judd Choate, the elections director for the Colorado Secretary of State’s office, play pool at the Fun Street Arcade in Salida as part of Colorado County Clerks Association conference evening activities. (SOS photo)

At the conference, Adams County’s elections director Christi Coburn was honored with the Michelle Burton Excellence in Elections Service Award. She was nominated by her boss, Adams County Clerk Stan Martin. Jami Goff from Fremont County and Jenny Thomas from Routt County were finalists for the award.

Secretary Williams, whose office oversees bingos and raffles as well as charitable organizations, presented a letter of appreciation to the exalted ruler of Elks Lodge 808. The clerks played bingo at the lodge one night.

The secretary also honored the departing clerks during his presentation.

Four of the retiring clerks have more than 150 years of service between them. They remember hand typing voter registrations and simpler rules before Congress passed the Help America Vote Act after the highly contested 2000 presidential election.

Crowley County Clerk Lucile Nichols went to work in the office in 1972 and was elected clerk in 1994. She’s spent 46 years in the clerk’s office. Bent County Clerk Patti Nickell was elected clerk 1986. Washington County Clerk Garland Wahl took office in 1983.

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams with two longtime county clerks who are retiring this year, Bent County’s Patti Nickell and Otero County’s Sharon Sisnroy. (SOS photo)

Otero County Clerk Sharon Sisnroy, who is 64, began working in the office in 1975 when she was 21. She was elected clerk 20 years ago.

“I am looking forward to my retirement but sure it will be bittersweet since I have been doing the same job my whole adult life,” Sisnroy said. “I have felt blessed to have my job and work with such a dedicated group of clerks. I just think it is time for new blood with new ideas to take the reins.”

Boulder County’s Hillary Hall is leaving this year after serving 12 years.

“As clerks, we not only serve our community but we spend countless hours working toward the collective good. A few of the ways we do this is by serving on committees, writing, reviewing and testifying on legislation, creating and sharing best practices, educating our members and partnering with other stakeholders to implement statewide changes,” she said.

“When I was first elected,I had no idea about all the work that we do together. I will miss this collaboration when I finish my final term later this year.”

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, in the back row, joined county clerks who have received grants to update their recording equipment. Not pictured is Chaffee County Clerk Lori Mitchell.(SOS photo)