County clerks group seeks election reforms

Before the fights start over election reform bills introduced into the Colorado Legislature in January, the state’s county clerks want to meet with legislators to talk about them.

That, at least, is the tone meant behind an open letter the Colorado County Clerks Association sent to all 100 lawmakers Friday, said the group’s executive director, Donetta Davidson.

The letter asks for a meeting with legislative leaders to discuss such thorny issues as going to all mail-in ballots, changing voter registration dates, purging certain inactive voters from registration rolls and creating a uniform ballot tabulation system in all 64 counties in the state.

The basic point is to lay all issues on the table before the battles start between various factions on each side of those topics, Davidson said.

“Our goal is how we can serve our citizens, have an accurate election, a clean election, and make sure that we have discussed all the issues,” said Davidson, who served as Colorado secretary of state from 1999 to 2005. “There are some things that drive the clerks crazy, there’s some things that drive the public crazy. There are so many different deadlines, and we want to know if it’s time to look at it and change it.”

The past two years, including during this year’s legislative session, have been fraught with skirmishes between some legislators, Secretary of State Scott Gessler, county clerks and numerous advocacy groups over various issues, some of which even went before the courts.

Davidson and the state’s clerks are hoping to avoid that this next year.

The chief message is any one change shouldn’t be made in isolation, said Mesa County Clerk Sheila Reiner, vice president of the association who will be legislative co-chairwoman for the group.

“In our current state of elections, we have vote-center counties, we have old-style paper book polling place counties and we have predominately mail-ballot counties,” she said. “If our election system is looked at as a whole, and we get some standardization, we could address reforms that would be reasonable.”

One of the thorny issues that is expected to return during next year’s session is the idea of extending voter registration deadlines right up to Election Day.

That idea last came up in 2010 when the Democrats controlled both chambers of the Legislature.

After two years of Republican control in the House, the Democrats are back in charge, and the clerks association expects a bill calling for that to resurface.

Reiner said the clerks oppose that idea, in part, because it would be a logistical nightmare dealing with registrations on the same day Coloradans are voting.

To expect clerks to have same-day registration with same-day election results is unrealistic, she said.

“The differences with the counties’ election systems would mean different impacts on each one of them,” Reiner said. “The ones that have polling places with no (online) connectivity could possibly be forced to register someone on the spot and allow them to vote without any access to a computer system.”

Elena Nunez, executive director of the left-leaning Common Cause, which advocates for such things as same-day voting, said she welcomes the clerks’ call for discussions and compromise.

She said all of the groups that focus on election laws agree on some things and disagree on others, but each has the same goal — to make the state’s elections go as fairly and smoothly as possible.

“We run a nonpartisan election-protection program to help voters get the information they need about voting, where to go vote, what to do if they don’t get a ballot, that kind of thing,” Nunez said. “Through that process, we’ve seen that there continue to be barriers for voters.”

The group has been at odds with Gessler over his attempts to purge certain inactive voters from the registration rolls, saying he’s trying to take people off the rolls before he should.

Gessler plans to hold a “listening tour” later this month to talk about how the election was conducted and whether changes need to be made.

He’s scheduled five such sessions, none of which is on the Western Slope.


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