Gessler’s absence from meeting may deepen rift with county clerks

Secretary of State Scott Gessler was a no-show Wednesday at the Colorado County Clerks Association’s summer conference in Grand Junction, and officials there weren’t pleased.

Donetta Davidson, the group’s executive director and a former secretary of state, made that clear when introducing members of Gessler’s staff, who had attended to discuss various elections issues, including a controversial elections reform law approved by the Colorado Legislature earlier this year.

“We are not pleased,” she simply said of Gessler’s absence.

Andrew Cole, Gessler’s spokesman, didn’t immediately answer several email messages as to why his boss hadn’t attended the conference, which past secretaries of state almost always do.

Instead, Cole questioned why the association was using his absence as “a personal swipe” against Gessler, saying they first turned their backs on him when that elections reform bill was being drafted.

Cole, who later said the secretary was in Denver attending meetings, said the new reform law would be implemented despite its flawed nature.

“We are working hard to implement (the new law) with the limited resources and unrealistic time lines presented in the legislation,” Cole said in an email. “The secretary’s top priority is protecting the integrity of Colorado’s elections. We will continue to work with all stakeholders in an open and transparent fashion, which is how election policy should be implemented.”

Mesa County Clerk Sheila Reiner, who is to be president of the group starting in January, said she specifically asked for Gessler to appear because it would have been a good way to heal the wounds between him and the clerks, who drafted and backed the election reform measure.

“We are disappointed that he wasn’t able to make it,” Reiner said. “We want that partnership with him. He needs us, and we need him for rules and regulatory information. He definitely needs us because we’re the ones who execute what he lays out.”

The two have long been at odds over several issues, including Gessler’s repeated claims that numerous illegal immigrants are voting in the state.

Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert, who did attend the conference and spoke along with a group of people from her staff, said 150 to 200 people who aren’t legal residents voted in last year’s elections.

Though Reiner and other clerks asked why they weren’t informed of who those people were so their names could be removed from the voter rolls, Staiert said the office gave those names instead to various district attorneys around the state for possible prosecution.

She said some of the people who illegally voted were known to the clerks, but for some reason were not purged from the voter rolls, adding that the office was planning to work on some new regulations to prevent that from happening in the future.

“We need to come up with some kind of process that is consistent for all the counties to use,” Staiert said.


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