MONTROSE—(February 6) When Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler stopped at the fairgrounds in Montrose last Wednesday morning, turnout was sparse, limited mainly to elections professionals and political types. After all, Gessler was there to listen, not to present. Although he spoke briefly, the Secretary of State spent much of the time talking and responding to audience questions.
“I have been in the world of elections for twelve years,” Gessler said. “Often, a lot of people who work elections have comments, thoughts and experiences to share, but those are not collected by the Secretary of State. We had an election in Colorado three months ago, and I would like to hear peoples’ experiences, so we can collect, analyze and use them in 2013.”
Gessler called the election of 2012 “a very good election.”
“I am not talking about outcomes, but about how it worked,” he explained. “In 2012, we ran a very good election—probably the best ever in Colorado when it comes to administration. We had fewer problems statewide than ever before, and more participation.”
Gessler noted a big jump in the number of registered voters in 2012, up more than 400,000 since the election of 2008. “Colorado was second or third in the nation when it comes to county turnout,” he said. “My colleagues around the country were alarmed about the military and overseas vote–it worked fine in Colorado, but nationwide, turnout collapsed. We are doing a better job when it comes to voter integrity; we ran an ad campaign that encouraged people to register, and to update their voter registration.”
Gessler claimed that one in eight of the nation’s voter registrations contains inaccuracies. “That causes problems,” he said, noting that one in 10 Colorado voters updated their own information in 2012. People who register incorrectly simply don’t know better, he stated. “We have got to do a better job on that,” he said, “with more education and training up front. Our mechanical problems are down, the quality of our voter rolls is up, and voter participation is up—we had a great 2012, which is a testament to the hard work of those in this room. We’re not perfect by any stretch—we had some long lines in some places, and our voter rolls still have lots of errors. There are ten counties in Colorado where voter turnout exceeds registration; we need to figure out what is going on within our state’s framework. “In 2014, we can do better.”
Following Gessler’s presentation, he spent more than an an hour taking questions and listening. Among those who shared their own experiences was Ouray County Election Judge John W. Nelson, who has spent 12 years as an election official, and who noted that indeed, “This election went extremely well…we have to give a lot of credit to our county clerks.”
Nelson also told Gessler that a proposal to allow same-day voter registration “scares the devil out of him” because Internet access is limited in portions of Ouray County. “In my district there are times we don’t even have an open telephone line,” he said, adding that he also worries about plans to legislate uniformity with regard to Colorado’s voting machines.
“Conceptually it may be a good idea, but I worry that it could be another unfunded mandate,” Nelson said.
Stating that he strongly opposes same-day registration, Gessler said that he believes Colorado, although not the nation, could benefit from uniform voting technology. “A uniform voting system would alleviate costs and allow for better equipment,” Gessler said. “Every county is facing acquisition costs anyway, and this would simplify the system and reduce concerns.”
Montrose County Clerk & Recorder Francine Tipton-Long noted that there are four voting equipment vendors in Colorado, and that Gessler would like to see that number reduced to one. “I believe it would be good for Colorado,” Long said. “If all of us are on the same page we can work across county lines.”
Staunchly partisan, Olathe Republican Richard Harding praised Gessler and Long, and asked that the state consider making data available in a Microsoft Excel format. Montrose County Democratic Party Chair Jayne Bilberry asked who would choose and give approval to selection of the state’s vendor, and Gessler noted that the evaluation and decision making process would be taking place over the next year.