Q&A with Chuck Broerman: No. 1 county’s top election official says Colorado sets the pace
Author: Dan Njegomir - October 30, 2017 - Updated: November 2, 2017
Work. And elections. They’ve helped define Chuck Broerman.
Before he ever was elected El Paso County’s clerk and recorder, he climbed the ranks in the office — starting as a motor vehicle technician in the clerk’s office, then working his way up to operations manager, interim motor vehicle manager and chief deputy clerk under his old boss Wayne Williams (now Colorado secretary of state). And that was all after a 20-year career in the tech sector. Of course, his parents set the example in the Ohio farming community where he grew up. His father worked two jobs at a time to helps support the family while his mom took in work as a seamstress and raised five kids. All of which inspired Chuck Broerman to work his way through higher ed, too.
Alongside his day jobs, he chaired the county Republican Party — the largest county GOP in the state — and also served as vice chair of the state party. Throughout, he’s been active in numerous political campaigns.
That’s a whole lot of elections and a whole lot of work, which makes Broerman a must-interview for today’s Q&A.
Colorado Politics: A point of contention from last year’s election was whether there was massive voter fraud. Your office has kept the public apprised of some cases of ballot fraud you detected and turned over to authorities for prosecution, which we’ve reported. Such developments seem if anything to have intensified the debate — with one side saying the fact that vigilant clerks catch the wrongdoers underscores how rare voter fraud is, and the other side saying it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Which is it?
Chuck Broerman: I think the correct answer is somewhere between the two arguments. While voter fraud may be rare, even one instance of fraud can have serious consequences. For example, in the 2013 Coordinated Election, a Harrison School District director race was decided by one vote, and a City of Fountain councilor race was decided by eight voters; every vote really does matter.
Throughout the past several years, Colorado County clerk and recorders, district attorneys, and the secretary of state have proposed and enacted legislation, rules and best practices to make our election processes as robust and secure as possible to minimize fraud. However, no system is totally free of the possibility of fraud. Any system of voting must balance voter accessibility to ensure that elections are fair, with the need for reasonable safeguards to ensure that only legally qualified ballots are counted.
With the cooperation of our District Attorney Dan May, our office has prosecuted a number of voter fraud cases. However, there have been several hundred possible instances of voter fraud forwarded for investigation. While these instances may not present enough evidence to result in a conviction, at the very least the statutes, rules, best practices and our bipartisan teams of election judges prevented an illegal vote from being cast.
CP: Your office and staff received national recognition this summer for your work in accommodating voters with disabilities. Describe the scope of the problem of the disabled exercising their voting rights, as well as the challenge of county elections officials meeting the needs of voters with disabilities.
Broerman: Voting accessibility is a core value of our office, and we continually engage community groups on how we can improve voting accessibility for all in El Paso County. For the 2016 presidential election, our Elections Department worked with The Independence Center to identify specific challenges to voting accessibility for those with disabilities. The Independence Center is a local nonprofit organization that serves individuals with disabilities and their families to support independent living. Through the partnership, we identified the following key challenges: transportation to and from voting locations can be a large barrier to voting; not all poll workers are as familiar with how to effectively assist those with disabilities; while all voting centers are ADA-compliant, not all are as convenient for voters with accessibility challenges. In order to address these challenges, the Elections Department worked with The Independence Center to conduct a training for ALL election judges on disability etiquette, and then also set up The Independence Center as a voter service and polling center for Election Day, and the day prior. The Independence Center has several advance accessibility features for voters to take advantage of, and the Elections Department also equipped the Center with additional voting machines often used by those with disabilities. The Center also had ASL interpreters on hand to help with questions. This election, The Independence Center will again be a voter service and polling center, and will feature many of the same accessibility features. We look forward to continuing this partnership for many elections to come!
CP: Earlier this year, your elections staff also was recognized with an innovation award for making some common-sense changes to balloting. A lot of us taxpayers are probably quick to criticize government bureaucracies for their mistakes but perhaps not as aware of their strides. Especially when it involves a service like voting that is exclusively the purview of government. Where do good ideas come from in your office? Does it often enough depend on having seasoned staff members who know the ropes and wind up simply building a better mousetrap based on their experience?
Broerman: We foster a culture of innovation and efficiency in all of our offices to ensure that taxpayers’ money is used wisely. I like to try new ideas. Even if we fail attempting to implement a new concept, that’s just one way we have established that does not work. I have found that trying new approaches often leads to the discovery of another method that just may work. Good ideas come from our exceptionally talented staff. Our seasoned staff provide a longer-term perspective on innovations, having the history to know what changes have worked well and those that may not always have the highest value-add. And our newer staff drive fresh ideas and out-of-the-box approaches. We lead the way in innovation in government because we aren’t afraid to ask the tough questions about our processes, and to answer those questions with the tools and resources to make things better.
- El Paso County clerk and recorder; elected in 2014.
- Previously served in the clerk’s office as a motor vehicle technician, operations manager and chief deputy.
- Former El Paso County Republican Party chair and former state GOP vice chair.
- Appointed in 2001 as the South-Central Colorado business development representative by then-Gov. Bill Owens.
- Spent his first career in the tech sector; holds associates degrees in electronics technology and electromechanical engineering and a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
- He and wife Vickie attend Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Colorado Springs. They have four daughters; he coached all of them in volleyball and basketball.
CP: Speaking of seasoned staff, you’ve spent time in the trenches of the same office over which you now preside, working your way up before being elected clerk and recorder. Many elected county officials take the helm with no experience. How does your background in the office influence your work now as clerk?
Broerman: Prior to working in the Clerk and Recorder’s Office, I worked 20 years in manufacturing, equipment engineering and logistics in the hi-tech sector. Following that career, I worked on the counter servicing motor vehicle customers. I believe that both experiences have enabled me to fully understand the technical aspects of a position that is highly complex, while have understanding and empathy for our citizens and staff.
My experience in the field of semiconductors (computer chips and products) has instilled in me a number of core values I use in the delivery of exceptional customer service to our citizens. In that industry, we were driven to develop and deliver a product that was more powerful, faster and of higher quality, all at a lower cost. Every day I take the goals from the private industry and infuse them into our organization’s operations to create products and services attuned to the needs of our customers.
CP: What improvements have yet to be made in Colorado’s elections procedures?
Broerman: Through obtaining and maintaining my national certification as an election administrator, I have had the opportunity to converse with election officials from around the country. Without exception, they hold what we are doing in Colorado to deliver election services to our citizens with great interest and regard. It is often expressed that they want to follow in the direction that Colorado is leading, and they seek to know in greater detail how we are constantly improving transparency, accuracy and accessibility.
We should all be very proud to vote in Colorado. However, as administrators of elections, we can continue to do more. I believe that it is essential that we are vigilant in ensuring the integrity of our voting processes. We must work with great expertise in the area of cybersecurity to safeguard against outside attempts to alter the true voice of the citizens. I believe that it is also essential to the integrity of our elections that we ensure that those that cast a ballot are legally entitled to do so under the law. I believe the current practice of allowing individuals to utilize utility bills, bank statements and rent receipts as proof of identity to be poor public policy and a possible pathway to voter fraud.
CP: Should clerks be elected officials rather than appointed? How do you respond to those who contend that a county’s chief election official should be a neutral, nonpartisan arbiter rather than a partisan elected official?
Broerman: I think the old adage of “the proof is in the pudding” applies here. Clerks are some of the hardest-working people in government. Besides elections, clerks in Colorado process motor vehicle transactions, records property deeds, grant marriage licenses and are the official record keeper of the minutes for the county commissioners. All the clerks I know hold themselves to the highest ethical standards. Through the Colorado County Clerk Association, county clerks are constantly bench-marking our operations, and working with each other to adopt best practices, ensuring the conduction of fair, accurate and transparent elections. As clerks, we care more about getting the results right than who won.
CP: Long before your time at the clerk’s office, you had a storied history in partisan politics yourself, having served as chair of El Paso County Republicans as well as vice chair of the state party. You long were viewed as a go-to guy to get things done in party politics. How do you reassure voters nowadays that you are there to serve all of them, regardless of party affiliation — especially in a GOP-dominant county like yours — and that you’re not there to do the bidding of Republicans?
Broerman: At the end of the day all I have is my integrity. And that is extremely important to me. In life we all wear many hats. I am a son, a brother, a husband, a father, and a grandfather. I’m a friend, a neighbor, and a co-worker. I’ve been a youth coach and a game official. As in any role we take on or off that hat depending on the responsibilities that we have in that position. I appreciate the term of “a go-to guy.” In any role I have taken on I have done so with enthusiasm, energy and the desire to do a good job. In the pursuit to deliver fast, friendly accurate customer service in Motor Vehicle, I’m the go-to guy to get it done. You need fair, accurate and transparent elections? I’m your go-to guy. I grew up in a small German Catholic farming community in Ohio. My father and those I grew up around taught me to work hard, be dependable and that my word is my bond. Those thoughts are our guiding principles in our office. I ask for each of my staff to embrace the following core principles:
1) Embody the highest degree of integrity
2) Work hard
3) Be dependable
4) Do quality work
5) Have joy in your heart
6) Make those around you better today than they were yesterday