Secretary Williams talks about primary elections, voter fraud and more

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams mingles with members of the League of Women Voters Denver before speaking to the group Monday night. (SOS photo)

Most Colorado counties are holding elections this November, but to Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams’ dismay the turnout won’t be anything like last year’s presidential election, when 2.9 million Coloradans participated.

“Off-year elections” usually involve school board races and tax issues for local districts. Some cities are holding council elections.

“These are issues that can directly affect your property values,” Williams said. “Given how much is at stake, I think it’s absurd that people aren’t going to vote in the upcoming election.”

Williams also disputed claims of massive voter fraud.

“I’ve seen no evidence of millions of people voting illegally,” he told the League of Women Voters. “We have found instances of people voting in Colorado and other states at the same time, and we are investigating that.”

It was the secretary’s third talk on election issues in 10 days.

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A late-night battle over Colorado’s unaffiliated voters

Sens. Kevin Lundberg, a Larimer County Republican, and Steve Fenberg, a Boulder County Democrat, and two county clerks, Matt Crane of Arapahoe and Debra Johnson of Denver, listen to questions from a Senate committee late Tuesday on an elections bill.

A state Senate committee late Tuesday passed a measure aimed at implementing two ballot measures that impact unaffiliated voters participating in primary elections.

Sen. Steve Fenberg, a Boulder Democrat, testified it is “always a little precarious” to “tinker” with measures voters approve.

“In this case, I don’t think the legislature has a choice,” he said. “Some things need to be fixed, some things need to be implemented, we need to pay for it and the secretary of state’s office needs direction on how to implement this new law.”

Fenberg and Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, are co-sponsoring Senate Bill 305, which the Senate State, Veterans & Military Affairs Committee approved on a 4-1 vote shortly before midnight — the last of 16 bills the committee began hearing at 1:30 that afternoon.

“Is Senate Bill 305 an attempt to implement what we believe the voters said they wanted, or it is an attempt to correct some perceived errors in the content of 107 and 108 so they will work more smoothly?” Sen. Lois Court, D-Denver, asked during the hearing.

Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert testifies in favor of Senate Bill 305, an elections measure.

“I think it probably does a little bit of both,” Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert responded.

Proposition 107 requires the state to hold presidential primaries, and allows unaffiliated voters to participate without affiliating with a major party. The next presidential primary is in 2020.

Proposition 108 allows unaffiliated voters to participate in primary elections held every two years in June, again without affiliating. That measure is the most pressing one because it impacts the 2018 primary, when voters will pick candidates for the statewide constitutional offices, including governor and treasurer.

A key sticking point on how to implement the measure is whether the public has the right to find out whether an unaffiliated voter chose to mark a Democrat or Republican primary ballot. The disagreement has been spelled out in recent stories by The Colorado Independent’s Corey Hutchins and The Denver Post’s Brian Eason.

The Colorado Secretary of State’s office supports the disclosure of that information.

“The fact that you voted, the ballot style that you vote, has always been recorded in the state-wide voter registration system and has been a matter of public record,” Staiert said.

But others fear such disclosure would deter participation from unaffiliated voters, when the goals of the two ballot measures was to make it easier for unaffiliated voters to access the ballot.

Curtis Hubbard with OnSightPublic Affairs delivers petition signatures to the Colorado Secretary of State’s office in 2016 for two ballot measures dealing with unaffiliated voters. (SOS photo)

Since their passage, the implementation of Propositions 107 and 108 has been a key issue for Secretary of State Wayne Williams. He discussed
the measures when he met this year with county clerks at their various regional training conferences, including ones in Cañon City, Sterling and Rifle.

Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, was the lone “no” vote against the bill, which likely will be heard Friday by the Senate Appropriations Committee. Court said she initially opposed the measure, until hearing Staiert’s testimony.

Hill complained the bill was being rushed through late at night and late in the session — which by law must end Wednesday — and he wanted more time to study the issue. Denver County Clerk Debra Johnson echoed that concern during her testimony, as did her elections director, Amber McReynolds.

“We have been talking about this for months,” Staiert countered.

Sens. Kevin Lundberg, a Larimer County Republican, and Steve Fenberg, a Boulder County Democrat, present their bill late Tuesday on implementing ballot measures that change voting requirements for unaffiliated voters.

Previously, unaffiliated voters could participate in a primary by declaring to be either a Republican or a Democrat. Now they will automatically receive a ballot, but the question is, what kind?

Some election activists want a “super ballot” sent to unaffiliated candidates with the names of both Republican and Democrat candidates.

But Staiert pointed out that some counties do not have the capability of tabulating those kinds of ballots. Also, she said, in other states a combined ballot has led to a high “spoilage” rate, meaning voters’ ballots were tossed because they marked candidates on both the Republican and Democrat tickets.

The bill gives unaffiliated voters the right to specify whether they want to receive a Democrat or Republican ballot so they wouldn’t be receiving both.

Secretary Williams seeking input on primary election measure

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams is seeking input from county clerks about a measure voters approved last year that allows unaffiliated voters to participate in primary elections without having to declare membership as a Republican or a Democrat.

Peter Severson, Secretary Wayne Williams and Elena Nunez after the Colorado Social Legislation Committee meeting Jan. 30. Severson is director of the Lutheran Advocacy Ministry and the chair of the CSLC, and Elena Nunez, is executive director of Common Cause and secretary of the CSLC. (SOS photo)

Proposition 108 will go into -ffect before the June 2018 primary election where Coloradans will select nominees for governor, secretary of state and other races. Williams and clerks want answers now on how the measure might work.

“You might be saying, ‘Why is there a rush because it’s a year later that you have to deal with it?'” Williams said when he addressed the Colorado Social Legislation Committee at its Jan. 30 meeting.

He explained the measure means additional costs for county clerks, who must present budget requests to their county commissioners after the start of the fiscal year on July 1. The new method will require more judges and more ballots.

Other groups also have asked Williams to speak on the measure and its companion, Proposition 107, which creates a presidential primary. Williams will discuss the measures at Leadership Jefferson County, which will meet at the Capitol on March. 8.

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CO Democrats lead GOP heading into election for first time in 32 years

U.S. President Ronald Reagan, left, and Democratic candidate Walter Mondale shake hands at the start of their second 1984 presidential debate in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds/Denver Public Library)
U.S. President Ronald Reagan, left, and Democratic candidate Walter Mondale shake hands at the start of their second 1984 presidential debate in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds/Denver Public Library)

A CNN reporter who had been tracking Colorado’s voter registration correctly surmised that by September’s end Democrats would outnumber Republicans but he wondered: When was the last time that happened going into a general election?

Reporter Marshall Cohen called with that question in mid-September. A search through voter abstracts and binders — filled with monthly registration stats —  revealed it was 1984. Despite the lead, President Reagan still carried Colorado.

The research turned up some other interesting factoids on Colorado’s voter history: Fifty years ago, more than one-fourth of Colorado voters lived in Denver County, and unaffiliated voters over the decades have often been the largest voting block in the state, just as they are right now.

The next monthly report from Colorado Secretary of State’s office on voter registration is due this week  now available at the SoS website.  (Unaffiliated voters are still the largest voting block, despite an earlier report in this blog that Democrats had taken the lead. It’s so tough when Curis Hubbard is right.) When last month’s report was issued, the state had 3.1 million active voters, including 998,845 Democrats and 992,944 Republicans.

Cohen and colleague Jeff Simon visited Colorado to talk to them.

“Whether it’s because of the mountains, the microbreweries or the legal marijuana, Colorado is an attractive place to live,” they wrote.

The CNN piece was titled, “Colorado is not a battleground this year; Is it the next blue state?”

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