Colorado’s county clerks and their staffs learned about election security and costs, Motor Vehicle registration kiosks and privacy vs. public access from a stakeholder’s viewpoint at their conference in Snowmass Village this week.
Secretary of State Wayne Williams addressed the Colorado County Clerks Association on Tuesday, outlining legislation his office advocated for, the state’s leading status when it comes to voter turnout and registration, and future training to learn about election audits.
“Let me tell you how much I appreciate the opportunity to work with you and how much I and my staff appreciate your … commitment to ensuring that our elections are run with integrity,” Williams said.
Pam Anderson, the former Jefferson County clerk and the executive director of the Colorado County Clerks Association, said 54 of the state’s 64 county clerk offices sent representatives to the summer conference.
County clerks have a variety of responsibilities, from elections to motor vehicles to recording documents, such as marriage licenses and titles.
The titles of the conferences over the three-day workshop reflected that: “Creative Solutions for Long Lines,” “Election Integrity in the Current Political & Media Environment” and a “History of Paper & Demographics.”
Chaffee County Clerk Lori Mitchell, the president-elect of the clerks association, said she and her staffers learned plenty at the seminars. “They were really well done,” she said.
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 urged county clerks to voice their opinions next month after they view proposed regulations for allowing unaffiliated voters to participate in primary elections without any restrictions.
The Secretary of State’s office earlier asked some clerks for their ideas on drafting rules to deal with Proposition 108, which voters approved last November. It allows unaffiliated voters to participate in primary elections without affiliating with a party. The Secretary of State’s office is working on proposed regulations to be sent to clerks in May.
“When you get the draft regulations, please review them,” Williams said. “Please let us know if something works or if something doesn’t work. I need both of those.”
Williams on Friday spoke to clerks and their staffs who gathered at the western region clerks’ conference in Rifle.
Check out staffer Julia Sunny’s video on the visit with county clerks from the eastern regional. As Kiowa County Clerk Delisa Weeks says, “We’re small, but we’re fun.” YouTube video.
Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams addressed the issue of voter fraud when he spoke to county clerks on the Eastern Plains Wednesday, warning them that in the coming months his office could be asking about certain constituents suspected of voting twice in the 2016 election.
“Some of you are aware there were accusations that there was rampant fraud in the elections. Some said there was no fraud,” Williams said. “The answer is somewhere in between.”
Colorado is part of a national months-long check of voter histories that flags the names of voters who appeared to have voted more than once.
“I anticipate there will be some people in Colorado who voted in multiple states. There are not tens of thousands of them. It did not change the result of the election,” Williams said.
“But there are elections that decided by a single vote. I presided over those elections as a county clerk. So we care about that issue. The message from us isn’t that vote fraud never occurs, but we make it difficult to occur and we help prosecute people when we find out about it.”
Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams told county clerks at a regional gathering this week that his office is reviewing how to implement voter-approved ballot measures, including one that changes signature gathering for ballot proposals.
Amendment 71 requires that any new constitutional amendment pass with 55 percent of the vote instead of a simple majority. In addition, a percentage of the signatures to put the measure on the ballot must be gathered in all 35 Senate districts, which will change how the state reviews petitions to determine whether backers collected enough valid voter signatures.