Williams: Decision on uniform state voting system coming by month’s end
Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, in town for a charitable foundation event, visited the Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder’s Office on Tuesday and discussed the state’s planned uniform election system.
Williams, a former clerk and recorder who was elected in 2014, was in Aspen along with 14 current and four former secretaries of state from around the nation for the Pew Charitable Trusts event at the Sky Hotel on Monday.
“Once I knew that was happening, I thought this would be the perfect time to visit with Janice and her office. She does a great job despite the fact that we stole one of her good people a few years ago,” he said, referring to former county elections manager Dwight Shellman III. “My goal in visiting with the clerks is to make sure that I know what they need and that my office … is providing the support to the counties that we’re supposed to.”
Janice Vos Caudill, Pitkin County clerk and recorder, said she appreciates the collaboration with, and quality of work provided by, the state.
“Wayne’s staff does an excellent job, and they just keep getting better year after year,” she said.
Williams said it’s imperative that Colorado have a uniform voting system. Four pilot systems (Clear Ballot, Hart InterCivic, ES&S and Dominion) were tested out both in rural and urban counties during the November election.
“We’re going to make sure that it is in place before the primary [elections],” he said. “We don’t want a presidential election where the whole world is staring at Colorado.”
The decision on which system the state will employ will be made by the end of the month.
“We said we ought to do pilots — let’s try this stuff out, let’s try it before we buy it. Let’s provide a common-sense trial process,” Williams said. “These systems are using commercial off-the-shelf products. So instead of developing a scanner just for elections, you use a scanner and then get the software, which does a couple things: It keeps costs lower, because you’re not custom-designing things, and the county can use the scanner for other purposes when it’s not in the middle of an election.”
Vos Caudill said the efficiencies related to the new systems are well beyond the equipment the county has used for 15 years.
“For example, when we cast ballots, we cast perhaps 400 an hour on the equipment we have now,” she said. “We can do that in five minutes with the new equipment. So for us in Pitkin, we’re probably one of 20 to 24 counties that are looking to purchase new equipment this next year. It’s imperative for us to be successful this next year with the presidential [election].”
Williams said the cost of the statewide systems is a key factor in which will be chosen, with estimated costs of implementation ranging between $5 million and $25 million. The wide range is because some counties may want to purchase redundant devices in case a machine breaks down on election night.
“My guess is Pitkin is probably going to have [more than one],” he said. “They’ll have some backups you could deploy is there’s a issue. … The clerks’ role in this process is so important, and they’ve got to make those calls on how much redundancy you need. An election is a pretty important thing: It’s the foundation of our democratic republic.
“It’s not like you can say, ‘We’ll get it right tomorrow,’” Williams added. “You have to have it right on that day.”
He also touted a couple of recently passed state bills: One that automatically updates a person’s voter registration address when they update their motor vehicle address, and another that requires that ballots for military personnel go out in a timely manner for municipal elections.
“It’s just the logical thing to do,” Williams said. “Both of those passed with both Democrat and Republican support.”
Vos Caudill added that anyone who wants to sign up for caucuses must do so by Jan. 4 if they intend to participate. Caucuses take place on March 1.
Williams’ next duty Tuesday was to drive the Wyoming secretary of state to Denver International Airport after his flight was canceled due to the winter storm.
“So I’ve become a ride to DIA,” he said with a laugh.