The word of the day in two southeastern county clerk and recorders’ offices is renovation, as the Otero County clerk is temporarily operating out of a former Montgomery Ward’s store and the Prowers County clerk endured a year of dust and drilling when a new heating and air conditioning system was installed in her courthouse.
Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams visited the clerks Wednesday where besides talk of remodeling the conversation centered on unaffiliated voters receiving ballots for the primary election — a first in state history.
“We’re trying to figure out a process for the unaffiliated,” Prowers County Clerk Jana Coen said.
Voters in 2016 passed Proposition 108, which allows unaffiliated voters to participate without declaring to be a member of either party.
Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams and Jon Caldara, president of the right-leaning Independence Institute, discussed a range of election topics during a recent appearance together, from the Russians to the impact of a measure that allows unaffiliated voters to participate in primary elections without declaring to be a Republican or a Democrat.
Williams appeared on Caldara’s show, Devil’s Advocate, which was taped last week and airs at 8:30 tonight on Colorado Public Television Channel 12. (Update: Here’s the link to the show.)
“We’re going to have open primaries, which is crazy to me but the law is the law and now unaffiliated candidates will be able to vote in any primary,” Caldara said, referring to Propositions 107 and 108, which voters passed a year ago. “So if I’m a registered Republican, at this point why bother? You can just be unaffiliated and get both ballots.”
Williams pointed out that more than 90 percent of candidates get on the ballot through the caucus and assembly process. And in some places with lopsided registration — GOP- dominated El Paso County or Democratic-laden Denver — that process can determine who wins in November.
“So there’s still a very good reason to be affiliated and participate,” he said.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.