Wayne WilliamsWayne WilliamsOctober 26, 20175min778

Every vote matters. I learned that when I was still a teenager.  The mayoral candidate I volunteered for, my friend Bob, lost by 12 votes. A dozen. That hurt. As the El Paso County clerk and recorder I oversaw two school board races that were decided by a single vote. This was after all the provisional ballots had been counted and the recount was finished. A lone vote could have made all the difference. Recent recall elections and other challenges in several counties illustrate how important school board races are to our lives.


Paula NoonanPaula NoonanSeptember 26, 20175min1131

Active independent expenditure committees, aka political action committees (PACs), currently number 61 registered at the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office.  These committees collect money to support candidates.  The sources of the funds are undeclared, so only the total amount of donations shows in Secretary of State's Office forms.  These PACS do not coordinate with candidates.


Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirSeptember 11, 20172min440

Noteworthy on Lynn Bartels’s blog last week: a piece by her fellow Secretary of State’s Office staffer, Julia Sunny, on a visit from an Alaskan delegation studying Colorado’s success with mail ballots. Alaska is considering a move to all-mail balloting, Sunny reports.

Included was this nugget:

Colorado is one of the top five states in the country for voter turnout, due in part to its mail-ballot system for elections.

…And this:

Secretary (of State Wayne) Williams, Colorado elections director Judd Choate, and county support manager Dwight Shellman, sat down with the Alaskan officials to discuss Colorado elections’ processes and what Colorado does to maintain the integrity of elections.

Shellman explained the innovative risk-limiting audits system Colorado will utilize in the next election. Colorado is the first state to implement statewide RLAs to elections, a new and better type of post-election audit.

Taken together, they could provide reassurance in the face of periodic concerns over voter participation as well as ballot security in the Centennial State. The misgivings come from across the political spectrum — typically around election time, of course — and range from worries that voter registration procedures could disfranchise some segments of the community, to concerns that mail ballots could compromise election integrity.

Sunny’s report reminds us Colorado’s election system is viewed as a template for other states. We must be doing something right.



Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirAugust 21, 20172min223

Bet you didn’t know the hard-working staff at the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office also plays a mean game of softball. Well, at least, it fields a softball team; judging by the team photo (which we borrowed from the blog of office Information Minister Lynn Bartels), the players look pretty friendly. Writes Bartels:

The team is named Hot S.O.S., which is pronounced “Hot Sauce.” Its goal is to have a good time, said Coach Hilary Rudy, the deputy elections director.

Hot S.O.S. participates in the state’s co-ed softball league, which has been around since the 1960s.

As it turns out, there are 14 teams in the state softball league, representing state agencies ranging from the Department of Education to the  Department of Natural Resources. Adding to the fun are the teams’ names, Bartels notes: “The Legislative Council’s team is Capitol Offense while History of Colorado is Relics.”

Our favorite is the Department of Law’s team: Hit & Run.

So how did the Hot S.O.S. do this year? Reports Bartels, it placed fourth in the A league with a record of 4-6 and was knocked out of the season-end tournament. Better luck next year, guys.


Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirAugust 15, 20174min656

iStock image / siraanamwong


For all you hand-wringers fretting over the purportedly fragile state of our democracy — worrying that voters are turning away from politics out of frustration, disgust, apathy or, most recently, out of fear their personal voter data will be shared with the feds — Colorado has a tonic for you:

Voter registration just hit a record high, the Secretary of State’s Office announced Monday.

As a press release from the office noted, the milestone comes despite, “the recently publicized voter withdrawals.” Meaning, of course, the reaction by largely Democratic voters to requests by the Republican Trump administration’s “election integrity” commission for information on each state’s voter rolls.

By the numbers: 25,039 new or returning voters have registered since June 28, bringing the total to 3,737,569 Coloradans who stand ready to participate in democracy. That’s the highest number of voters ever for the state.

Secretary of State Wayne Williams was quoted in the press release: “I am pleased that Coloradans are engaged and I hope that citizens continue to register to vote using the many tools my office provides.”

Now, here’s the most interesting part: How that infusion of 25,000-plus voters breaks down by party. It wasn’t in the press release, but the office’s Julia Sunny tracked it down for us (thanks, Julia!), and look who accounted for more than half of the total increase:


It wasn’t Dems defying Donald Trump or Republicans standing by their man; it was that growing group of voters who continue to comprise the plurality of Colorado’s electorate: unaffiliateds. Unaffiliated voters’ growth outpaced that of either major party by more than 2 to 1.

And, really, what does it mean? We’ll step aside for the moment and defer to the pundits on this much-discussed trend — other than to offer this trite-but-true-ism: Politicians of the two major parties cannot afford to ignore the unaffiliated voter.


Peter MarcusPeter MarcusJuly 24, 20175min474

The Colorado Supreme Court is being asked to review what constitutes a “fee” or a “tax,” which could leave funding for elections in jeopardy.

The case, initially filed by the National Federation of Independent Business, claims that businesses carry an unfair burden of the cost of funding state and county elections through business filings. The group hopes to reclaim the revenue, which would potentially throw elections into flux.

NFIB and the Secretary of State’s Office – which administers elections in Colorado – is asking the Supreme Court for clarity. The request stems from a March Colorado Court of Appeals decision, in which the appellate court required more information before making a decision.

Prior to the appellate order, a lower court in November 2015 tossed NFIB’s lawsuit, which brought the case to the Court of Appeals. The case started under former Secretary of State Scott Gessler, a Republican.

The question at the heart of the case is whether business filings collected by the department qualify as a “fee” or a “tax.”

“NFIB’s petition asks the Supreme Court to take the case to make clear that the secretary’s statutory authorization to unilaterally raise business filing ‘fees’ is facially unconstitutional and urges the court to issue a definitive ruling that all of the secretary’s increased business filing charges, post-1992, have amounted to illegal taxes under Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights,” read a news release from NFIB.

NFIB contends that the business filings are no different than a “tax” since the filings fund general operations rather than a particular service. Assuming the filings amount to a “tax,” then the revenue would have to be approved by voters under TABOR, attorneys argue.

The state, however, points out that a charge is a “fee” under TABOR when it funds a particular function or service. Because the fees charged by the secretary of state are placed in a segregated account and may be used only to fund the department’s operations, it is defined as a “fee,” the state argues.

The charges were enacted in 1983 — well before TABOR  — and the legislature required the department to set and adjust fees for all department work.

Business filings range from $5 to $125, and make up nearly the entirety of the Department of State’s approximate $20 million-plus annual budget. Only about 10 percent of the charges pay for business-related services, according to attorneys for NFIB.

The other 90 percent of the charges collected each year pay for general government expenses overseen by the department. The largest portion goes to the department’s elections division, which accounts for approximately 65 percent of the department’s total annual budget.

If the Supreme Court sides with business interests and the secretary of state’s office is no longer allowed to use business filings to fund elections, then the legislature would have to come up with about $20 million from the general fund to pay for operations.

In its request to the Supreme Court, NFIB argues that, “The unquestionable primary use of the business charges is to pay for functions and activities unrelated to business services. NFIB contends that this arrangement makes the business charges a tax rather than a valid fee. As a tax, the business charges are subject to TABOR.”

“Because a significant portion of the business licensing charges are appropriated to defray the Secretary of State’s general expenses, the business licensing charges are a tax and not a ‘fee,’” said Karen Harned, executive director for NFIB’s Small Business Legal Center. “Thus, the state is imposing an illegal tax on small businesses to fund obligations; that should be a cost shared by everyone rather than just Colorado’s entrepreneurs.”


Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJuly 20, 20175min306

ColoradoPolitics.com’s Peter Marcus reported in March on a legal development that could have big implications for the ability of the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office to fund its wide-ranging operations — including the state’s elections.

At issue is whether the fees the office charges businesses to register and file other paperwork with the state are in fact taxes that should be subject to the provisions of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. The key constitutional clause requires, among other things, a vote on every tax hike. If the courts ultimately side with a lawsuit by the National Federation of Independent Business, which contends the fees are taxes in disguise, it would mean the Secretary of State’s Office was breaking the law any time it had raised its fees since TABOR was enacted by voters in 1992. Theoretically, the office could be forced to forego its main source of the funding it uses to sustain its entire operation — elections, business registration and more.

As noted in Marcus’s report, the Colorado Court of Appeals had sent the small-business advocacy group’s lawsuit back to a lower court for further fact finding. That could eventually lead the courts to determine how many times the secretary of state has raised fees — it hasn’t at all during the tenure of current Secretary of State Wayne Williams — and whether the increases really amounted to tax hikes restricted by TABOR.

This week, the NFIB filed a motion requesting that the Colorado Supreme Court take up the case and settle the matter once and for all. Says an NFIB press statement issued Wednesday:

NFIB’s petition asks the Supreme Court to take the case to make clear that the Secretary’s statutory authorization to unilaterally raise business filing “fees” is facially unconstitutional and urges the Court to issue a definitive ruling that all of the Secretary’s increased business filing charges, post-1992, have amounted to illegal taxes under Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR).

Underlying NFIB’s legal argument is a practical concern: that the fees businesses pay to the Secretary of State’s Office overwhelmingly fund other functions unrelated to its business-related services. And NFIB would quite like for its thousands of members statewide to hold onto more of their money, which they feel is being used unfairly to subsidize the entire office. The press release quotes Karen Harned, executive director of NFIB’s Small Business Legal Center:

“Because a significant portion of the business licensing charges are appropriated to defray the Secretary of State’s general expenses, the business licensing charges are a tax and not ‘a fee.’ Thus, the state is imposing an illegal tax on small businesses to fund obligations; that should be a cost shared by everyone rather than just Colorado’s entrepreneurs.”

Yet, as Marcus reported in March, lawyers for the state contend the fees are just that and nothing more because they are earmarked for the specific functions of the office — and that it’s within the purview of the secretary of state to use the revenue that way.

The suit originally was filed during the tenure of former Secretary of State Scott Gessler.



Hal BidlackHal BidlackJuly 19, 201713min327
Hal Bidlack

In my last essay, I talked in general terms about why I chose to run for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2008. Today, let’s get a bit more into the weeds on the mechanics of how you actually run for office. I offer this for two reasons: first, it is, I think, interesting to understand the process of how people actually end up on the ballots we see every other November. Secondly, perhaps there is someone reading this who feels the itch to run and wonders how to get started. Mr. Lincoln, when asked about running for the White House in 1860, replied “The taste is in my mouth a little…”

So, if you are like I was in 2008, and you have a bit of the taste in your mouth, what is the next step? How do you actually run for office? How do you declare your intention to pursue a seat in Congress? Hint – you don’t stand on a street corner and shout “I declare for Congress.” It is a bit more complex than that. But once you formally become a candidate, there are a variety of rules you must follow, both literal and figurative, to avoid big problems such as fines, embarrassments, and oh yes, going to jail.

The first thing to know is that there are different rules for campaigns at different levels of public office. If you want to run for the state House or Senate, then you need to make sure you follow the rules of that particular state. For Colorado, our Secretary of State’s Office runs things. They have a 138-page manual to follow to ensure you stay on the right side of campaign and finance requirements.

But if you want to run for a national-level office (presumably the Senate or House, but this would also apply to the potential presidential candidates out there), the Federal Election Commission should be your first stop. There you can find out what you have to do to become, in the eyes of the FEC at least, a candidate. For the curious, you can also find out who donated what and to whom. They even do webinars on how to run for Congress without violating the law. They don’t get you on the ballot and they don’t interact much with your campaign, but you will absolutely need to make sure you stay on the right side of the FEC. You will file regular reports with the FEC and those reports get more numerous and more detailed as Election Day approaches. By law, only two people can actually end up in jail for campaign finance issues — the candidate and the campaign’s treasurer. So pick wisely.

You don’t need to bother with an FEC number if you raise less than $5000, however, because until you cross that threshold, you are not actually a candidate, at least in the FEC’s eyes. Why is there this limit? That’s because you can be one of two types of candidates — serious and symbolic. So which shall you be?

A serious candidate is one who actually is trying as hard as he or she can to win the election. A symbolic candidate is one who is willing to be a placeholder on the ballot for his or her party, but isn’t really going to try to run and win. Symbolic candidates often stand against people, such as Paul Ryan on the GOP side and Nancy Pelosi on the Democratic side. No Dem is going to beat the Speaker in Wisconsin and no Republican is going to beat Pelosi in San Francisco. So much for symbolic candidates.

So you are going to be a serious candidate, and you want to win? I’ll give you the advice I got in 2008 from smart people about elections. While we all condemn it, and we all say we want to do something about it, in today’s electoral world, money is the most vital part of any election. That is because you need to get the word out on your campaign. You must effectively introduce yourself to the voters in your district or state. Once you have won an election or two, it gets simpler (note I didn’t say “easier.” Raising money always, always sucks at the soul of every candidate). But especially in your first campaign, raising money and spending money will be the core of your existence for months.

Why is money so important at the national level? Well, you simply can’t knock on enough doors to introduce yourself directly to the number of voters you must persuade. If you knocked on 50 doors per night (a very high total) for 365 days straight, you’d reach about 200,000 people, give or take. The average congressional district has 711,000 people. And that door knocking leaves no time for everything else. Ultimately, if you want to win, you need to be on TV and radio, as well as all over social media. How do you get there? You buy the time. With what? (I bet you see where this is going.)

So you now understand that you have to raise lots and lots of money to be a serious candidate. Why is that? Well, the big donors out there (we sometimes call this group the “professional” donors) — the rich folks who write checks in the thousands of dollars — pick their candidates carefully. They are looking for someone they can support on the issues who actually has a shot at winning. So, how do they decide? Broadly speaking, they are looking for three things:

  • Has the candidate quit his/her job and is now running for office full time? This is the metric used to determine commitment.
  • Has the campaign hired professional support? This usually means hiring a PAID staff that includes, at a minimum, a money person, a PR team, and a pollster.
  • And now the hard one – and I admit this varies a tad: Has the candidate already raised enough money that he or she is showing a real shot at winning? This varies by district. Here in CD 5, I needed to raise $100,000 in the first quarter of my campaign. We did it, by the skin of our teeth, on the last day before the first required FEC report. This generated what we call “earned media” which simply means getting press coverage without cost to the campaign. We used to call this “free media” but it isn’t free. You really have to work to get the media to cover you.

You may have noticed by this time that I haven’t mentioned political parties and their role yet. That is because – stand by for a shocker – the political parties will be little more than very nice people cheerleading for you. They may help with some phone banking and they may help out with the all-important GOTV (which is the Holy Grail for campaigns – the Get Out The Vote effort on Election Day). But you won’t get money or much in the way of direct support. The party may well have played a part in recruiting you to run, but once you start that campaign, for the most part the party doesn’t do much for you directly.

Except — remember before how I said the FEC doesn’t get you on the ballot? It is your state party that usually takes care of that paperwork. In my case, at the Colorado State Democratic Convention, one of my duties was to head over to the paperwork office and sign the forms needed to get your name on the ballot itself. And here’s a twist – within reason, you get to pick your ballot name. My legal name is Harold, but for the past few decades, I’ve gone by Hal. So I got to pick my name for the ballot as Hal Bidlack. You can’t have any titles or rank and such, but you get to pick your name. (And, as yet another aside, it is a rather surreal experience to open your mail-in ballot and find your own name on it.)

So now you know how to get started. You know to go to the FEC to get your money started on the right foot, and you know how to get your name on the ballot. You understand that, at least for the U.S. House and Senate, you aren’t going to spend too much time knocking on doors.

So, what’s next? Raising money. If you are like me, you enjoy the interaction with voters — the chatting at social events, the talks to groups of interested voters. But all that takes place in the evening. To get there, first you are going to spend all day, most days, on the phone.

You are going to start calling people and asking them for donations. You are going to spend hundreds of hours on the phone and you will hear every possible type of witty voicemail message. But all that phone stuff can wait for the next installment, which is the part of a campaign that unites all candidates from all political points of view in a cycle of shame and loathing – dialing for dollars. Meet me back here in a week, and bring some aspirin. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.