Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Controversy has marked Colorado's election processes and officials in recent memory, but Secretary of State Mike Coffman said he expects the state to pull off a trouble-free presidential election next month.
On the tail end of a tour to visit every county clerk in Colorado, a weary Coffman said Monday that he also is confident Routt County has cured the concerns that led him to place it on his Election Watch List after the November 2006 election. That election saw voters delayed for as long as four hours because of long lines and difficulties with the county's new electronic voting machines.
"I can't say enough about the job since 2006 that your county clerk, Kay Weinland, has done for preparing your community for what is going to be a very challenging election," Coffman said. "I think Routt County is definitely ready for this election."
Coffman said there is "no margin for error" in a year when he thinks there is a reasonable chance the presidential contest could be decided in Colorado.
"That's why I'm on the road," Coffman said. "That's why I'm not in a relaxed state. : There's no margin for error when you very well could be the center of attention."
Coffman also expects the 2008 election to be the largest in the state's history. In addition to Colorado's role as a battleground state, Coffman said the country is at a crossroads - two very different candidates are running for president, and the state has a competitive U.S. Senate race between Republican Bob Schaffer and Democrat Mark Udall, a contest receiving national interest.
"All the ingredients are there," Coffman said. "I've never seen this kind of intensity."
There's also the fact that, because of a glut of proposed amendments and referendums, Colorado has an exceptionally long ballot this year. Both Coffman and Weinland urged voters to do their homework before hitting the polls.
"We're really, really encouraging people to be prepared because of the length of the ballot," Weinland said Monday. "It's a responsibility that they be prepared."
Weinland's office also is encouraging people to vote early or by mail. Coffman agreed and said it would be unfair "to the people waiting in line behind you" for voters to try and make up their mind on complex ballot measures when they arrive at the polls on Election Day.
"I think it's better for someone to deliberate at home," Coffman said.
Coffman said he is meeting regularly with representatives of both campaigns and political parties to try and prevent potential legal action from either side that could accompany a close race in the state. Coffman said he asked the representatives to convey their concerns so that he can address them before Nov. 4.
Colorado's local election officials were caught in limbo for months starting in December of last year, when Coffman decertified electronic voting equipment used in 52 of Colorado's 64 counties, including Routt. Coffman proposed the state vote by only paper ballot in 2008 before he eventually recertified the machines earlier this year.
Also last December, management of the Colorado Secretary of State's Office was criticized in a report by the Colorado State Auditor. Coffman, who took office in 2007, said Monday that the report covered the previous four years and "very little of it touched my term of office." He also said the state's switch to a statewide voter registration database will cure concerns in the report that dead people and felons had voted in elections because the database interfaces with other state databases that would contain that information.
Last month, Colorado Elections Director Holly Lowder resigned after it was revealed that she had a longstanding personal relationship with a man who received substantial election-related contracts from the state. Coffman said he could not discuss the personnel-related matter, but that Lowder's resignation does not hinder the state's ability to pull off the election. Coffman said Lowder was overseeing the state's transition to the new voter registration database rather than day-to-day election operations.
"The issues she was working on are done or largely done," said Coffman, who said his deputy elections director is now the elections director. "There's no transition involved in her leaving."
Coffman is running for U.S. Congress in Colorado's 6th Congressional District south of Denver. He has faced criticism for that fact, too, but stressed Monday that he is "focused on my job as Secretary of State."