Voter ID among items on new Secretary of State Wayne Williams’ agenda

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Photo: Secretary of State Williams
Republican Wayne Williams began his term as Colorado's Secretary of State in 2015.

A new man is taking charge of elections in Colorado. Wayne Williams, an El Paso County Republican, will be sworn in Tuesday as secretary of state. In that office, he'll also oversee business licensing, charities, and lobbyists. Williams previously was a county commissioner and then county clerk.

On the eve of his inauguration, Williams talked with Colorado Matters about his priorities for the term ahead.

On why he sees a need for a voter ID law:

Williams favors requiring voters to show photo identification before they can cast a ballot. But with Democrats controlling the state House and governor's office for at least the next two years, Williams has little hope for a broad voter ID policy in the near future. Instead, he wants at least those who register to vote on Election Day to have to show an ID (Colorado offers free IDs to people over 65 and several groups, including Metro CareRing, provide vouchers and other ID assistance to low-income people):

"This is someone we've never seen before. We don't have any proof they are who they claim to be. In that case, having a Department of Revenue issued ID is a step that I think would help secure that process. And I think most Coloradans are honest and law-abiding and follow the rules, but I think it's important to have the processes in place to protect the election system so that people have confidence in it."

On whether there is fraud in Colorado's elections:

Williams wasn't able to confirm if some bad actors have fraudulently signed mail ballots. He explained that voters whose ballots have questionable signatures get a letter from the county clerk, asking them to confirm their ballot within eight days. However, some municipalities don't require signature verification in their elections, Williams noted.

There were still about 9,000 ballots in the presidential election, a little over 9,000, that were not counted. What I can't tell you is how many of those were someone whose signature might've changed, or someone who had a family member who signed it, or someone who was attempting to turn in a ballot that they had no relationship to. But we do know that that's an important part of the process.

And it's required for every county clerk and recorder. But the same protection for the voters isn't there in some municipal elections. Some municipalities choose to require signature verification, some don't. The reason I talk about that is that the first issue is you've really got, depending on the election, 95 to 98 percent of Coloradans who choose to vote by mail. Making sure that process is secure is the top priority.

On changes he'd like to see to Colorado's election system:

With Colorado now sending ballots to all registered voters, Williams says the state needs to rethink some of its rules for how people return those ballots. He'd like to see all counties install 24-hour ballot drop boxes, an option he says more than half of El Paso county voters used the last election. On the other side, Williams believes the requirement to have vote centers open for two and a half weeks before an election doesn't account for when people actually vote:

"What I'd like to do is have some flexibility at the local level... I'll pick my county: under the law we were open on a Saturday. We had twelve sites open. We had five people vote at the twelve sites during the five hours of voting we had. So that's not really a very cost-effective way and there certainly wasn't a demand for it. And so, emphasizing a procedure in which you have the voting available when the people want to vote I think is important for Colorado voters.

Williams says the move to all-mail balloting means the state needs to improve election procedures at the local level. He wants all municipalities to have to verify ballot signatures in their elections. Williams is also concerned that under current law, Colorado service members deployed overseas aren't being given adequate time to vote in every election back home:

"In federal elections, there's a federal law that requires they be sent ballots 45 days ahead of time and that the ballots count if they're received up to eight days after the election, as long as they were mailed by Election Day. Those provisions don't always apply for municipal elections or special district elections. And then for recall elections, under a provision the legislature passed last year, you don't even know the candidates on the recall until 37 days before the election, making it rather difficult to mail out a ballot 45 days ahead of time."

On updating Colorado's campaign finance disclosure system:

Williams says he'll be seeking input from the public and the state's political community about how to improve TRACER, Colorado's campaign finance database. One possibility would be to allow campaigns to directly import data from their own accounting software, instead of filling out forms:

"One of the things I want to look for going forward is getting input from the people [who] actually have to use the system to make it easier for people to use, so you don't have to hire a professional accountant or a professional finance person in order to make filings, and try to make it as user-friendly as possible both for filing and for citizens who want to search."

On his relationship with the Colorado Clerks Association:

During his time as the El Paso County clerk, Williams resigned from the statewide organization. Since then, he's given shifting reasons for leaving the group. During the campaign, Williams told an interviewer he left because he didn't want to be associated with all of the positions it was taking. In his interview with Colorado Matters, Williams said, "I chose not to renew the membership when the dues increased by 50 percent." However, Williams says his relationship with his fellow clerks remains strong:

"I have a great relationship with the County Clerks Association. I have met with their leadership on several occasions since the election. I plan to be at their conference for all three days. So we're planning on doing a lot of great work together. I'm working with them on several bills related to some other areas, in the recording area and others."

Williams will be sworn in for his first term on Jan. 13, along with Gov. John Hickenlooper, state Treasurer Walker Stapleton and Attorney General Cynthia Coffman. Colorado Matters will also be talking Coffman and Hickenlooper.