by Rick Langenberg:
Teller County’s election-related resources and facilities are inadequate for handling the forthcoming presidential contest, and the staff needs to better promote mail-in ballots and extend its hours for early voting. These are some of the highlights of an initial review compiled by Teller’s new election consultant Al Davidson, who has wasted little time in overseeing the clerk’s office regarding the Nov. 6 election.
Davidson, who was recently hired by the county on a temporary basis, is expected to address Teller leaders in a public meeting and suggest more specific steps. And whatever actions he recommends, even if involves a steep price tag, the county will most likely have to abide by his orders. Officials in Teller are facing much scrutiny, following a scathing state report that gave the clerk and recorder’s office a failing grade for its handling of the June 26 primary election. This prompted a visit by Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler, who recommended that the Teller government hire Davidson, the former deputy clerk of elections for Arapahoe County, to manage its elections department. The county commissioners full-heartedly agreed and accepted the consequences of spending an additional $135,000 in extra election expenses this year. The commissioners recently approved a contract for another employee to assist Davidson during his overhaul of the Teller elections system.
And this overhaul has apparently gotten off to a fast start. In a memo read at last week’s county commissioners meeting, Davidson expressed concerns over a slew of issues pertaining to election-related resources. These mostly deal with establishing adequate vote centers, having proper computer equipment at specific locations, extending hours for early voting, promoting the mail-in voting process better and having overall resources to comply with new election night reporting standards. On the upside, Davidson was quite complimentary towards the attitude of county employees. “I have forged a relationship with the clerk and recorder that helps preserve a positive work environment for the staff,” stated Davidson, who didn’t attend last week’s meeting. “I find the staff in the office to be eager to work on this election and eager to learn.”
Probably the biggest red flags in his review dealt with the current election day resources that Davidson believes are inadequate. “I find the equipment available, the locations projected for use and the proposed level of election judge staffing to be less than optimal. Along with the clerk and recorder, I am evaluating other venues in Woodland Park that may be able to be used to accommodate our election- day turnout,” stated Davidson. Davidson is projecting a 90 percent participation rate for voters who cast their tallies in person, and a 95 percent turnout among mail-in voters. And according to his review, a prime vote center in Woodland Park, proposed at the local library, can’t handle this level of demand. Plus, he raised concerns about parking and the lack of laptop computers and needed election equipment.
Davidson also wants the county to amend its recent resolution regarding early voting to extend the hours for two days during the week and to add limited hours on Saturday, Oct. 27. These early vote centers are located in both Woodland Park and Cripple Creek at the Woodland Park Library and at the main clerk and recorder’s office.
Promoting mail-in ballots
He also heavily advocated launching a promotional campaign to boost the local rates for mail-in voting. Currently, Teller County features one of the worst percentage rates in the state regarding mail–in tallies, compared to the total amount of votes cast, according to Davidson’s report. The consultant cited the importance of changing this trend to alleviate election-day lines and additional pressure for county officials and judges.
Currently, an elector can request to be placed on the mail-in vote list (formerly referred to absentee ballots) by visiting the clerk and recorder’s office or by making the change on-line. Once voters make these requests, they will be mailed ballots for every election as long as they stay current with their registration. “It appears that no major outreach to the voters to encourage participation by mail ballot has been made recently and I think many of our voters would take advantage, if offered the opportunity, if for no other reason than to avoid potential lines on election day,” related Davidson. This point got the attention of the county commissioners last week, who didn’t realize that Teller had such a dismal record for mail-in voting. They asked Clerk and Recorder JJ Jamison what steps they could take to promote this process, other than using the local media. Jamison recommended sending out post cards, alerting voters of the advantage of this system.
Davidson also said the county needs to abide by new rules regarding election night reports. Several additional guidelines focus on procedures for updating records for military personnel and overseas voters. At the same time, the election consultant is seeking relief from new mandated requirements for serving these voters. Due to the limited amount of members of the military, who are registered to vote in Teller County and are currently overseas, Davidson conceded that the staff doesn’t have the resources to comply with these new rules. Davidson’s memo didn’t generate much debate. The county commissioners have expressed a strong desire to abide by the recommendations of state authorities regarding improving its election system. Jamison also has agreed to fully cooperate and to better train her staff for conducting elections. Davidson is expected to attend future meetings of the county commissioners to update the public on the county’s election situation.