All about U: Secretary Williams

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams and his decorated U. (SOS photo)

Memorial Day is the perfect day to highlight Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams’ wooden U because it is focused on family, faith and freedom.

Williams is handing out the U’s as part of its UChooseCO campaign, which stresses to unaffiliated voters that they can’t vote both the Democratic and Republican ballots they will receive. They have to pick just one ballot. If they vote two, neither will count.

This is the first time in state history that unaffiliated voters, now the largest voting block in Colorado, can automatically participate in primary elections.

Voters approved the change in 2016 when they supported Proposition 108. The legislature authorized Williams to launch the campaign to educate unaffiliated voters amid concerns from county clerks, party officials and others that unaffiliated voters as well as Democrats and Republicans would be confused.

The other side of Secretary Wayne Williams’ wooden U.

Already, Democrats and Republicans are asking how Proposition 108 impacts them for the primary — it doesn’t.

The Secretary of State’s office contracted with Forté Advertising to target active unaffiliated voters with a mostly digital “UChoose” campaign, although some voters are receiving mailers. The campaign has a web pageFacebook page, a Twitter account and its own hashtag, #UChooseCO.

Every day between now and the June 26 primary we will highlight a wooden U or two.

Recipients were asked to consider their values when decorating or to just have fun. Some clerks highlighted their counties. Williams’ staff,  primarily Julia Sunny in communications, decorated his U.

Check out more decorated U’s on Facebook and Twitter.

“In Colorado, we like things to be fair”

Sen. Cheri Jahn of Wheat Ridge, who announced in December she was leaving the Democratic Party and becoming an unaffiliated voter, speaks at a UChooseCO event Tuesday aimed at informing unaffiliated voters about the primary election. Seated to her left is Kelly Brough, president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. (SOS photo)

By Lynn Bartels and Julia Sunny

Two Colorado politicians who are unaffiliated appealed Tuesday to other unaffiliated voters to get involved in the June 26 primary election and help choose which Democratic and Republican hopefuls will be on the ballot in November.

Richard Skorman, president of the Colorado Springs City Council, and state Sen. Cheri Jahn of Wheat Ridge, said they are glad not to be unaffiliated with any party. Skorman has been unaffiliated since 2002, while Jahn announced last December that after voting independently for years she was leaving the Democratic Party.

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers writes on an inflatable “U” that is part of the UChooseCO campaign for unaffiliated voters as Colorado Springs City Council President Richard Skorman looks on. (UChooseCO photo)

“I really think there’s a lot of us out there who want to be able to weigh in on both sides,” Skorman said, during a news conference at Pioneers Museum in Colorado Springs in the morning.

“I want you to know how important your voices are,” Jahn said, during a news conference on the west steps of the state Capitol in Denver in the afternoon.

The events were part of the Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams’ UChooseCO campaign to help inform unaffiliated voters about their new rights and responsibilities for participating in primary elections.  The campaign kicked off last week in Grand Junction.

Kent Thiry, chairman and CEO of DaVita,  financed and led Proposition 108, which voters passed in 2016 giving unaffiliated voters — the largest voting block in Colorado — the right to automatically receive primary ballots.

He said in Washington lawmakers have taken him aside to say they would like to vote on compromise bills but if they did they would be knocked out in their next primary election.

“We’ve got lots of elected officials who will be liberated to govern in ways they haven’t been historically,” Thiry told the Denver crowd.

At each event, speakers were asked to write on a yellow, 8-foot, inflatable U a word or phrase that reflected their values. The U’s will remain in their communities during the campaign. Williams, who lives in Colorado Springs and suffers a miserable commute to work in Denver, wrote “I-25” on the U in Colorado Springs. He continued the theme in Denver, writing “transportation” on that inflatable.

Read more“In Colorado, we like things to be fair”

Upgrades & unaffiliated voters, southeastern Colorado style

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams met with Prowers County elected officials Wednesday, including the commission, sheriff and clerk. From left to right, Commissioners Ron Cook, Tom Grasmick and Wendy Buxton-Andrade, Sheriff Sam Zordel, Secretary Williams and Clerk Jana Coen. (SOS photo)

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.

Read moreUpgrades & unaffiliated voters, southeastern Colorado style

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:

Secretary Williams visits historic Summit County

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams visits today with the Summit County Clerk & Recorder’s office, including, left, chief deputy clerk Stacey Campbell, and Clerk Kathleen Neel, center. (SOS photo)

Visiting Summit County Clerk Kathleen Neel any time of the year is a treat but in the midst of the Olympics the trip is even more special.

The sign that welcomes visitors exiting Interstate 70 has been changed from “Silverthorne” to “Goldthorne” in honor of local snowboarder Red Gerard, who won a gold medal last Saturday.

From there Williams drove to the county seat of Breckenridge. Summit County was established in 1861 as one of the Colorado Territory’s original 17 counties.

“We had a good visit,” Neel said.”He wanted to make sure we felt we are being taken care of by the Secretary of State’s office — and we do. They never make you feel like you asked a stupid question.”

Summit County Clerk Kathy Neel color codes the voter service and polling centers located in the county. (SOS photo)

Williams has made it a point since he took office in 2015 to visit with all 64 clerks in their offices to see first hand what kind of challenges they face.

Neel and her chief deputy clerk, Stacey Campbell, talked with Williams about a variety of issues, including the nation’s first-ever risk-limiting audit that was completed after the 2017 election.

In addition, they discussed the June 26 primary, which will be the first time unaffiliated voters can automatically participate without officially declaring to be a Republican or a Democrat. They will just select which ballot they want to vote.

“It is a little nerve-wracking,” Neel said, “because we’ve never done an open primary before.”