Secretary Wayne Williams deals with mud month first hand

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams struggles to put on his jacket as a biting cold wind blew through the Eastern Plains Monday. He was headed to Akron from Yuma when he stopped for a picture with the windmill. (SOS photo)

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.

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams could barely see out of his car when he arrived at the Lincoln County Clerk’s office Monday afternoon. (SOS photo)

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.

The secretary thought it would be an easier trip from Washington County to Lincoln County to visit Clerk Corinne Lengel, but once again he replied on Google Maps.

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.

Yuma County Clerk Beverly Wenger and Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams at her office in Wray. (SOS)

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  

Washington County Clerk Garland Wahl, who is retiring after this year, and Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams. SOS photo)

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

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams and Lincoln County Clerk Corinne Lengel and the famous cinnamon she has made for guests and other clerks. (SOS photo)

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 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.

Read moreColorado will lose some of its longtime county clerks

Garland Wahl, going out of her way for Washington County

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams at the Washington County clerk's office in Akron. Behind him is Brandy Ward, Clerk Garland Wahl and Esther Weis. (SOS photo)
Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams at the Washington County clerk’s office in Akron. Behind him is Brandy Ward, Clerk Garland Wahl and Esther Weis. (SOS photo)

Garland Wahl was elected to her first term as Washington County clerk and recorder in 1982. She ran again four years later and won, and just kept running and winning.

“One term just went into another,” the 72-year-old Wahl said Thursday, after Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams visited her at her office in Akron.

“I work for the citizens of Washington County. That’s something I’ve tried never to forget. I try to go out of my way for them,” Wahl said, adding she once drove a ballot to a Greeley hospital so a resident could vote.

Other county clerks have high praise for Wahl. “Such a great mentor,” Morgan County Clerk Susan Bailey wrote on Facebook Thursday.

Read moreGarland Wahl, going out of her way for Washington County

Colorado county clerks call conferences “extremely rewarding”

San Miguel County Clerk Kathleen Erie and Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams at the Colorado County Clerks Association conference in Fort Collins this month.
San Miguel County Clerk Kathleen Erie and Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams at the Colorado County Clerks Association conference in Fort Collins this month.

By Keara Brosnan

Colorado county clerk and recorders say attending conferences with their back-to-back workshops can be taxing, but they are extremely rewarding.

“I have been to every one since being elected” in 2010, Clerk Kathleen Erie from San Miguel County said. “They play a huge role in keeping us all informed on best practices and law changes.”

The Colorado County Clerks Association hosts two statewide conferences annually. Clerks and their staffs also have the opportunity to attend regional training throughout the year sponsored the association and by Secretary of State Wayne Williams’ office.

The clerks finished their winter conference in Fort Collins last week, which was hosted by Larimer County Clerk Angela Myers. The CCCA’s summer conference is in Arapahoe County Aug. 1-3 and will be hosted by Arapahoe Clerk Matt Crane.

Washington County Clerk Garland Wahl and Morgan County Clerk Susan Bailey at the Colorado County Clerks Association meeting in Fort Collins.
Washington County Clerk Garland Wahl and Morgan County Clerk Susan Bailey at the Colorado County Clerks Association meeting in Fort Collins.

“I have only been a clerk for about a year now, so this conference is valuable to network and learn so much from the other clerks,” said Morgan County Clerk Susan Bailey

Other more seasoned county clerks had a similar response to the winter conference.

“I have been a clerk for 34 years now and I still learn so much new information coming to these conferences,” said Clerk Garland Wahl from Washington County. “Every conference is different and I always learn something new.”

The clerks also found time to compete in a lip sync competition.

Read moreColorado county clerks call conferences “extremely rewarding”