Elections director should be neutral, group says
A Denver-based ethics group wants to take politics out of the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office.
It’s no secret that the left-leaning Colorado Ethics Watch that’s proposing such a change has long been at odds with the Republican secretary of state, Scott Gessler.
For the past six years, the group has made headlines suing or filing ethics complaints against politicians on both sides of the aisle, though most of them have been members of the Grand Old Party.
But the group’s leader, Luis Toro, said this effort isn’t about any one player in the game of politics. It’s about the game itself.
“It’s not a question of who’s running in the next election, or having someone for four years who may say they’re going to be a nonpartisan secretary of state,” Toro said. “The office really isn’t built that way. The idea is, let’s move the discussion away from who sits in the chair and more to what the chair should look like.”
Currently, most states in the nation have elected secretaries of state who oversee all aspects of elections, including what voting machines can be used and campaign finance matters.
Some states appoint their secretaries, either by their governors or their state legislatures. Both, however, are controlled by one party or another and likely will result in a partisan appointment.
What Toro and his group are looking at is something used in only a handful of U.S. states: a commission made up of nonpartisan, or at the very least, bipartisan, members.
Though its makeup would depend on the size of the commission, it would have a limited number of people from the same political party, Toro said. A place like Colorado would have the added element of a good number of unaffiliated voters, since they make up one-third of the electorate.
Toro said there’s plenty of justification for trying to take party politics out of the secretary of state’s office. A recent report on the issue put out by the group last fall cites numerous examples of partisanship impacting the secretary of state’s office from both ends of the political spectrum.
That included such things as defeated Republican candidates asking a Republican secretary of state to do a recount, instead of a Democratic county clerk who normally would perform that task. It includes the Colorado Democratic Party urging voters to use absentee ballots because a Republican secretary of state did not properly vet electronic voting machines.
The group also discussed, but hasn’t studied, the possibility of also making the elected clerk and recorders who oversee elections in the state’s 64 counties nonpartisan positions.
“That’s the kind of discussion we want to provoke, but we didn’t take a position on that,” Toro said of the county clerks. “Is it too big to try to change all 64 counties and the Secretary of State’s Office all at once? Is it necessary? Is it desirable? We don’t know.”
Any changes couldn’t be done by the Colorado Legislature alone because it would require altering the Colorado Constitution. As a result, Toro’s group is considering a ballot measure, but state law would prevent such a measure from appearing before voters until at least the 2014 general election.