At the Colorado secretary of state’s office, our primary concerns when it comes to elections are protecting the right to vote and the integrity of our elections. This means providing accessibility, transparency and security.
Citizens must have confidence in our elections — not just in our state, but nationwide. The public has to believe that elections are fair and free.
That’s the message I delivered inside the Beltway last week when the federal Election Assistance Commission invited me to join a panel of election administrators from battleground states to talk about 2016.
In Colorado, we will be conducting the first swing-state presidential election in which every eligible voter is mailed a ballot. The same bill the Colorado General Assembly passed in 2013 creating mail-ballot elections also allowed for same-day voter registration.
All voters — particularly those who only participate in presidential-year elections — need to ensure that their addresses are up to date because mail ballots are not forwarded.
In Colorado that is easy for voters to do. Colorado in 2010 became the fourth state in the country to allow citizens to register to vote or update their registration online. In 2012, Colorado was the first state to optimize registration for smartphones or tablets. Coloradans can go to GoVoteColorado.com to register, update their address or change their voter registration.
Before and after the 2013 changes, Colorado has had tremendous success in both registering and turning out voters. We rank fourth nationally in registration of eligible voters, and we were third nationally in 2014 for turnout by voting eligible population.
Members of the roundtable were asked how they are assisting political parties, campaigns and activist groups that already are recruiting lawyers to assist in monitoring election practices come November.
During every major election, our office meets with party attorneys regularly — sometimes daily — as Election Day nears. We conduct multiple training sessions across the state and online for election administrators. And we host campaign finance training statewide for any interested group, candidate or citizen.
We believe that pulling the back the curtain is one way to gain the public’s trust.
The roundtable was moderated by Merle King of Kennesaw State University and also included election officials from Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.
“Even though from the public perspective, it may seem like election season is just beginning, for the election officials, we’ve been preparing for a number of months, even a number of years,” King said. “The election cycle is the apex. The finish line.”
That is true in Colorado.
My predecessor put together a committee to review voting-machine systems, and I continued that work when I took office a year ago. In the last election, systems from four voting vendors were tested in eight pilot counties.
We tried it out with real voters and real judges. That was the common-sense way we looked at it. The disability community, for example, brought blind voters in to test the various different systems.
Ultimately, the committee unanimously selected Dominion Voting as its first choice, and I decided to enter into contract negotiations with the firm.
About one-quarter of Colorado’s counties will be using the new equipment in time for the primary election in June.
In addition to the roundtable on Jan. 6, I was invited to speak about military and overseas voters at the Election Center’s annual Joint Election Officials Liaison Committee Session held Jan. 7 and 8.
Before becoming secretary of state a year ago, I was El Paso County clerk and recorder. El Paso County handles more military and overseas ballots than any other Colorado county.
I’m absolutely determined as Colorado’s secretary of state that our men and women who protect this country have an opportunity to vote. That’s why our office on its own and with the help of the legislature has worked to institute or improve several policies and procedures that make it easier for military and overseas voters to cast ballots. This includes online registration, electronic delivery options and extension of the ballot return.
I appreciate both national election groups for reaching out to me to discuss some of the nation’s hottest election topics.
Wayne Williams is Colorado’s secretary of state.