I. In Focus This Week
Scott Gessler embarks on a listening tour of Colorado
Clerks and secretary seek to improve upon state’s voting system
By M. Mindy Moretti
By all accounts, Election Day 2012 went relatively well in Colorado.
According to a new report from Secretary of State Scott Gessler’s office, the November election was the most successful in the state’s history. It “achieved historic voter registration levels, exceeded national voter turnout numbers, and saw record-breaking participation by military and overseas voters.”
And in the recently released Pew Center on the State’s Election Performance Index the state scored a 75 percent overall EPI in 2010 — one of the highest in the nation — that doesn’t mean there still isn’t room for improvement.
But what needs improving? In order to get to the bottom of that question, Gessler recently embarked on a listening tour of counties throughout the state to hear directly from voters about their experiences with Colorado’s voting system.
“The Secretary agrees that the election was a success but we also think there is always room for improvement,” said Andrew Cole, a spokesman for the secretary. “So he wanted to get a firsthand account of what people saw, what they liked or didn’t like about the election administration, and how we can improve going forward.”
Gessler spent the last month or so visiting 13 of the state’s 64 counties to speak directly with voters. Although that’s a little less than a quarter of the state’s counties, the demographics of the counties visited — from urban Denver to rural Alamosa — took a wide view of the state.
This week, Gessler’s office also released a video providing highlights from the most recent stops on the tour and encouraging people to contact his office if they would like the tour to make a stop in their area.
So what exactly did Gessler and his team — as well as local elections officials who attended the meetings — find out about how they’re doing?
“We found many people appreciate the hard work their local county clerks and election judges do to put on a successful election,” Cole said.
Of course, because no election is perfect, Cole said there was definitely some negative feedback and process questions from voters. Cole noted though, that the questions and negative feedback was localized and more often than not specific to one voter or a small number of individuals.
“There were some issues with touchscreen voting machines recording votes for the wrong candidate. There were issues with high numbers of provisional ballots in some counties because many people who had requested mail ballots decided they wanted to vote in person,” Cole explained. “One of the counties that had just gone to vote centers had quite a few people ask about protections against vote fraud.”
Colorado’s clerks haven’t always gotten along with Gessler, but Pam Anderson, clerk and recorder in Jefferson County and current president of the Colorado County Clerks Association (CCCA) said the state’s clerks appreciated that the secretary was conducting the listening tour and being able to attend.
“Many Clerks have attended multiple sessions,” Anders said. “Also, as local elected officials administering elections at the grassroots, we work and are responsive with our voters every day and throughout every election.”
Cole said that the secretary’s office is still working through all of the feedback, but noted that some of the concerns can easily be addressed through better training of staff and election judges as well as better communication with voters.
“Others may need legislative or rule changes,” Cole said.
Legislative changes would not be unique to Colorado. As we’ve seen, many legislatures throughout the country are making election reform a top priority.
In an effort to get out ahead of reform efforts and take the bull by the horns so-to-speak, the CCCA sent a letter to legislators in December signaling what items they would like to see addressed in the 2013 session.
“We have a window of opportunity this session to address real concerns and make needed updates,” said Anderson. “We hope that with the pressures and partisanship of a presidential election behind us, we can come together to make improvements in the interests of voters and the people of Colorado, regardless of their party.”
Some of the items the clerks would like to see discussed include greater and more systematic use of mail ballots — currently 74 percent of Colorado voters vote-by-mail, keeping the current voter registration deadline — at 29 days, the status of inactive voters and uniform tabulation.
Anderson said the CCCA is work with legislators on several bills.
“We appreciate their efforts to reach out and work collaboratively with our clerks,” she said.
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