Secretary Williams and Monty Python

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams addressed the elections staff Wednesday, a day after the general election. (SOS photo)

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams this week congratulated his elections staff on their work and asked them to help make the incoming secretary as successful as he has been.

Colorado set a record turnout for a midterm election, although ballots are still being counted.

“You guys did a phenomenal job,” the secretary said. “Thank you.”

On another Nov. 6, in 1990, Coloradans elected Republican Hank Brown to the U.S. Senate and re-elected Democrat Roy Romer governor. On this Nov. 6, Democrats shattered the state’s reputation as a ticket-splitter, electing Democrats to every statewide constitutional office.

Among the victors: Jena Griswold, who nixed Williams’ bid for a second term.

“The new secretary is going to need your support and help because that’s the only way new secretaries are able to do it,”  said Williams, who was elected to the office in 2014.

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Here come the unaffiliated voters

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams listens to questions Friday in Grand Junction as part of the UChooseCO campaign, intended to help unaffiliated voters learn their new role in the primary election. To his right is an inflatable 8-foot “U.” Participants were asked to write on it something that represented their values. Williams later penned, “Community.” (SOS photo)

GRAND JUNCTION — Bob Cook’s an unaffiliated voter in Mesa County who was asked to speak at the kickoff for a  campaign designed to help educate unaffiliated voters about their new role in the primary election.

He’s also the pastor of the Victory Life Church in Fruita, which is why minutes before the news conference on Friday he pretended to pull a speech from his jacket and said, “He is risen.”

Pastor Bob Cook is an unaffiliated voter in Mesa County. (SOS photo)

That got some laughs but Cook saved that sermon for today and instead dealt with the ballot measure Coloradans passed in 2016. Proposition 108 allows unaffiliated voters to automatically participate in primary elections without having to declare membership in either the Republican or the Democratic party. But they must choose between the Republican or Democratic ballot.

Cook was joined by Secretary of State Wayne Williams, clerks from three counties and several Mesa County elected officials to launch the UChooseCO campaign.

The goal is to let unaffiliated voters know they can now participate in primary elections, that they can choose whether they want to receive a Republican or a Democratic ballot and those who don’t will get both ballots but can only vote one.

“I hope that unaffiliated voters will do exactly what this campaign is designed to do: Take advantage of the chance to participate but just don’t mail in both the Republican and the Democratic ballots because that wipes out your vote,” Cook  said.

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Colorado’s hard-working county clerks face unique challenges this year

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams with three Eastern Plains county clerks at the Colorado County Clerks Association 2018 winter conference: Lincoln’s Corinne Lengel, Logan’s Pam Bacon, and Yuma’s Beverly Wenger. (SOS photo)

Colorado’s county clerks are bracing for major changes this year, from mailing primary ballots to unaffiliated voters for the first time ever to revamping the Motor Vehicle operations their offices handle.

To prepare for 2018, the Colorado County Clerks Association at its winter conference in Colorado Springs last week offered workshops dealing with duties that most clerks handle, including recording documents, issuing license plates and running elections.

The association also installed new officers for the coming year. Chaffee County Clerk Lori Mitchell succeeded Logan County Clerk Pam Bacon as the group president.

“We need to thank the Secretary of State staff for working so hard with us this year and for the last several years,” Bacon said. “We have a pretty great working relationship with them and it takes all of us to make changes that work.”

Williams reviewed a list of achievements, including the completion of the first statewide risk-limiting audit designed to catch election errors. He also updated clerks on the installation of  ballot boxes to make it easier for voters to drop off their ballots 24-7, and the implementation of Dominion Voting Systems equipment that clerks say has made elections easier to run.

“We are the talk of the nation, as usual,” Williams said. “We are rock stars.”

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Colorado’s county clerks prepare for — and dress for — change

The Pitkin County Clerk’s office, with the assistance of Secretary of State Wayne Williams, model hats that reflect the seasons. Left to right: Clerk Janice Vos Caudill, fall; Kelly Curry, winter; Secretary Williams, mud; Beverly Mars, spring; and Mars’ daughter, Shelley Popish, summer. (SOS photo)

How do you come up with costumes when the theme of your conference is the nebulous “change?”

Pitkin County clerk staffer Kelly Cury, with her hat reflecting winter, and Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, with his hat for “mud” season, take the stage as part of the Colorado County Clerks Association’s costume contest Wednesday. (SOS photo)

Well, the Pitkin County clerk and recorder’s office focused on the changing seasons in one of the most picturesque locales in Colorado. For that effort, Pitkin County Clerk Janice Vos Caudill and her staff Thursday night won a costume contest at the Colorado County Clerks Association’s winter conference.

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams joined the Pitkin staff in modeling hats based on the five seasons.

Yes, five.  Williams wore the hat for “mud” season, you know, “the window of time between when the ski resorts close and when the summer activities pick up again.” With melting snow, there’s lots of mud.

There even was a brief wardrobe malfunction. The string on Williams’ hat broke before the contest started, and Vos Caudill enlisted a project manager with the Colorado Department of Revenue to fix it.

“I told Wayne’s wife (Holly), ‘I hope you don’t mind us dragging him through the mud — season,'” Vos Caudill said. “Wayne was so much fun.”

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The evolution of Maria Elena Ramirez

Secretary of State Wayne Williams with staffer Maria Ramirez, who is retiring effective Oct. 31. (SOS photo)
Secretary of State Wayne Williams with staffer Maria Elena Ramirez, who is retiring effective Oct. 31. (SOS photo)

Maria Elena Ramirez was, in her own words, “a welfare mom” who lived in public housing and received food stamps and a variety of other government benefits.

Until one day when she decided it was time to go in a different direction. She applied for a job with the state of Colorado, and interviewed with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office on July 14, 1999.

That was the same day Secretary of State Vikki Buckley, another welfare mom who worked herself out of poverty, died of a heart attack.

Ramirez began working for the Secretary of State on  Aug. 2, 1999.

“I learned I could support me and my kids,” Ramirez said. “I became independent.”

Countless calls — and six secretaries of state later — she is calling it quits. Today is her last day. Ramirez has four children, ages 31 to 24, and five grandchildren, but she’s not stepping down to spend more time with them, at least not right away.

“I turned 50 last year,” she said. “It’s time to do something for me. So I’m heading to the East Coast.”

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