Colorado did well on election report, but county clerks want to do better
By Pam Anderson and Hillary Hall
Colorado does a good job running its elections, says a new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts. The non-partisan think tank recently released the Elections Performance Index, which uses nationwide data examining how the 2008 and 2010 elections were run by all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. While our residents should take pride in what we’ve done so far, more work remains.
The index lets states measure themselves against the rest of the nation for the first time. It shows how we’re faring on basic measures such as number of ballots rejected, ease or difficulty of voter registration and whether the public can readily access information.
It’s been said that all politics is local. All elections ultimately are local, too. County clerks, including ourselves and our peers statewide, must ensure that the gears of self-government function smoothly. Election results should make the news, but the process of running the balloting should not.
That truth became all-too apparent during controversial, prolonged vote-counting in some states after the 2000 presidential contest. The 2012 race further underscored this serious obligation.
As a “bellwether” state for high-profile elections, political attention on Colorado has become more the rule than the exception. Colorado has continued to face the challenge of swift-moving reforms and limited resources that keep the concerns of our voters in mind for all elections we administer — not just the ones that grab headlines.
Making the system work properly requires election officials to navigate a complicated array of laws, court rulings and budget constraints. Well-meaning leaders and advocates sometimes propose ideas that may work in other locations. Every year, state lawmakers approach our organization, the Colorado County Clerks Association, with ideas for bills.
But not all such designs would benefit the Centennial State, with its diverse needs of populous metro Denver, farming towns such as Rocky Ford and high-country hamlets such as Tin Cup. On Election Day, snow could close the paved road into Silverton over the twisting, 11,000-foot Red Mountain Pass. Jefferson County isn’t just Golden, which is part of metro Denver; it’s also secluded Pine, spread out among fire-prone forests. Boulder County is more than its eponymous college town; it’s also humble Ward, still pock-marked by old mines.
To keep legislative discussions from devolving into political rhetoric, credible facts should be brought to bear. That’s a gap the Election Performance Index could fill. County clerks don’t set policies, but we are expected to implement them. Now we have the data to explain why some legislation might be counterproductive and what measures could improve the elections.
The research reinforces the idea that the jobs done routinely, as well as on Election Day, by Colorado’s 64 county clerks and their dedicated staffers contribute greatly to our democracy.
Statistics show Colorado as a 2008 and 2010 top-performer, and it is continuing to rise. In 2008, we had one tool for voters to find information, but now we have five. We’ve added secure, online voter registration. Colorado numbers among the top 10 for provisional ballots cast, but relatively few get rejected. Coloradans themselves contributed, too. In both years we landed in the top 10 states for voter participation.
Even with this positive review, elections professionals strive to do better. Our county clerks are committed to meeting the needs of all voters, so they look for ways to continue improving the registration and voting experiences. Colorado was the first state to implement vote centers and improve voter registration with online registration. We’re exploring new developments and technologies to make voting easier for disabled citizens.
The index helps us understand where Colorado stands, so it should assist county clerks and other administrators in addressing trouble spots. It is an adaptable tool that can be useful in evaluating our past and preparing for the future. Furthermore, the nationwide view that the Elections Performance Index provides will assist legislators and other policymakers in creating measures that have a proven track record of improving our democracy.
Pam Anderson, a Republican, is Jefferson County’s clerk and recorder and president of the Colorado County Clerks Association. Hillary Hall, a Democrat, is Boulder County’s clerk and recorder and co-chair of the CCCA’s legislative committee.