Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams headed out to the westernmost part of the state to visit Dolores County Clerk LaRita Randolph as part of his effort to visit all 64 county clerks at least once every two years.
“I made the commitment that I was going to make an elections-related visit to every county, every two years,” Williams said. “I made a job commitment, not a political commitment.”
Like Williams, Randolph will be leaving office in January. The two discussed what lies ahead while reflecting on a successful midterm election.
“We were comparing notes about what life holds in the next few months, and of course, we talked about the election that we just went through and how we are glad Colorado is cutting edge and everything went smoothly,” Randolph said.
Randolph and her staff completed their risk-limiting audit yesterday with “flying colors,” according to Williams.
This was the first year Dolores County used Dominion Voting Systems. Randolph reported a seamless transition towards more tech-savvy election administration. She especially appreciated the Dominion adjudication feature, which allows for election judges to interpret ballots with unclear markings and digitally records the judge’s decision to count the ballot.
“It saves the judges so much work,” she said. “So I couldn’t be more pleased with the Dominion product.”
Dolores County had a turnout that rivaled the 2016 general election. Randolph was able to report the results 12 minutes after the polls closed on election night. The county had two contested local races, one of which was the clerk’s race.
Lana Hancock, municipal clerk for the town of Dolores, will take over as the Dolores County Clerk and Recorder in January.
“She will be fresh to this office. She will have a lot to learn, but she’s bringing a lot of experience with her just in the municipal clerk side,” Randolph said.
Randolph hopes that Hancock will continue to bolster the county’s election security and attend trainings like EPIC, which was held in September to prepare clerks for the upcoming midterms.
Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams didn’t expect a trip to the Eastern Plains on Monday to be a white-knuckle, wind-whipping, mud-splattering experience but, after all, it was nearly spring and it is Colorado.
Williams braved snow in Yuma County where he met with Clerk Beverly Winger. He experienced so much wind on the way to see Washington County Clerk Garland Wahl afterward that picture taking on the side of the road proved to be a challenge.
That led him the” back way” from Akron to Hugo on a long stretch of unpaved county roads. Mud splattered the windshield and the car slid from side to side. With 20 miles left to a major road, the “low fuel” light came on and the secretary worried about running out of windshield wiper fluid.
“We made it!” Williams announced when he finally reached the clerk’s office in Hugo, where a surprise was waiting.
Y U M A
Yuma County Clerk Beverly Wenger isn’t sure what to expect for the June 26 primary when unaffiliated voters can automatically participate for the first time in state history.
In order to assist election judges, Republican voters will send their ballots back in red envelopes, Democrats in blue and unaffiliated voters in yellow envelopes, she said. Yuma County has 5,440 active voters, with almost 3,00 registered Republican, 1,621 unaffiliated and 762 Democrats. Unaffiliated voters who do not indicate a preference of whether they want a Republican or a Democrat ballot mailed to them will receive both primary ballots but told to only vote one. If they vote both ballots, both are declared invalid.
“It should in theory work, but this is our first time,” Wenger said, when she met with Secretary Wayne Williams at her office in Wray.
Other county clerks have shared the same fears of ruined ballots and a confused electorate. Wenger said she is going to do everything possible to try to educate unaffiliated voters in her county.
She also talked with Williams her county’s experience using equipment from Dominion Voting Systems for the first time last year.
“We love it. The judges love it,” she said. “I wasn’t sure how the judges who are ‘old school’ would do but they love it.”
W A S H I N G T O N
Normally the news that a county doesn’t need to conduct an off-year election is cause for celebration. It means less work for Colorado’s busy county clerks and saves their operations money.
But Washington County Clerk Garland Wahl and her elections director Brandy Ward were disappointed when they learned last year they were one of six counties that weren’t conducting an election because there were no contested races, tax measures, or other issues on the ballot.
Washington County had purchased Dominion Voting Systems equipment and Wahl and was excited to see how it performed in an election because her fellow clerks had raved about it since Williams in 2015 choose the equipment after a pilot program in eight counties.
“We just wanted to see how it worked,” she told Williams. “I guess we’ll find out in June.”
Washington’s a small county — there are only 3,082 active voters — but it is overwhelmingly Republican. In fact, it received an award in 2016 from the Colorado Republican Party for its high participation per capita in that election.
Wahl took the secretary on a tour of Akron, pop. 1,735. She lives about 10 miles north on the land where she and her late husband farmed and raised cattle.
“Akron’s a good place,” she said. “We look out for each other.”
L I N C O L N
For the longest time, Lincoln County Clerk Corinne Lengel resisted an offer from Secretary Williams that other counties were thrilled to accept: help with the cost of installing a 24-hour ballot drop box.
Voters in Lincoln County can currently drop their ballots off in person at the clerk’s office in Hugo, but the new drop box will be located in the county’s biggest town, Limon, about 15 miles away.
Lengel said she hopes to have it ready for the June 26 primary but if not the box will be available by November.
Lengel said it took her a long time to figure out the logistics because the drop box must have round-the-clock electronic security. She also worried about staffing problems driving to and from Limon to empty the box. Williams now has offered clerks an option, where they submit a waiver and don’t need daily box emptying.
Williams has been pushing the 24-hour ballot boxes because voters have learned that the ballots they mail in plenty of time to reach their clerk’s office sometimes don’t. Most of the mail is sent to Denver to be processed and then returned to the county. The drop boxes have proved so popular that in the 2016 general election, 66 percent of voters used a drop box, 27 percent mailed their ballots and 7 percent voted in person.
Before Williams arrived in Hugo, he called the clerk’s office to notify Lengel of his predicament. He was on a county road that was muddy as all get out and difficult to navigate and he was low on fuel. As it turns out, Williams made it to a gas station and then to Hugo, where some staffers laughed about the idea of having to call someone pull the secretary of state out of a ditch. They called him “Mudslinger.”
Williams was pretty unflappable about the drive but full disclosure: I was in the car and I was beyond flappable. Even the boss admitted his hands were stiff from gripping the wheel so hard.
Lengel had a treat for her visitors. When she hosts clerks’ training in her county, she arranges for a friend to bring homemade cinnamon rolls. Our office has raved about them so much she had a platter ready for us.
And because there was no line I decided to renew my driver’s license, which expires in May!
Thanks, Lincoln County, for the sweets and the tweets:
Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams admired the scenery and marveled at the warm weather during his visits with five county clerks who share a border with New Mexico to see how the southern Colorado officials fared in the Nov. 7 election.
Williams met with Montezuma County Clerk Kim Percell in Cortez, La Plata County Clerk Tiffany Parker in Durango, Archuleta County Clerk June Madrid in Pagosa Springs, Conejos County Clerk Lawrence Gallegos in Conejos and Costilla County Clerk Karen Garcia in San Luis.
In every county, he asked the clerks and their staffs, “Are you getting what you need from our office?”
And the answer always made Williams smile.
Williams visited all 64 clerks’ offices during his first two years in office, and is on his second round of visits.
“I love visiting with Colorado’s county clerks and other concerned citizens about elections,” the secretary said after the trip.
“I am particularly gratified by the reception we received, whether at the League of Women Voters forum in Durango or at remote county clerk’s office. So often people in southwestern Colorado feel isolated from the state. Their TV stations come out of New Mexico, and they feel like state officials only show up when a river changes color.”
Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams always gets rave reviews about Dominion Voting Systems, the firm he selected to provide voting equipment to counties statewide, but during his visit to Delta County on Monday he heard a first:
The system is so fast, so efficient, that the work of checking in ballots and checking for signatures gets done in a much shorter period of time.
“That means we don’t get to spend as much time together,” election judge Debbie Cole told Williams when he stopped by the Delta County Clerk and Recorder’s office to visit with Clerk Teri Stephenson and her staff.
At that lament, Williams let out a huge laugh. He told the judges he had never heard that one before.
Stephenson said the election judges told her afterward how surprised they were that the secretary of state “was such a down-to-earth, normal guy.”
“And we always brag on our election judges so it was great that Wayne got to meet some of them,” she said. “They are just an awesome group and they get along so well.”
Election supervisor Rene Loy said the volunteer election judges who showed up Tuesday were bummed they missed a visit by the secretary of state.