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County clerk sees election bill as unfunded mandate

Posted: 6:48 PM, Apr 15, 2019
Updated: 2019-04-22 13:02:00-04

COLORADO SPRINGS – A wide-ranging election bill advancing in the state legislature aims to make it easier to vote, but county officials tell us lawmakers are making it more expensive to run an election.

“For El Paso County, that would mean anywhere from $700,000 to $1.5 million in increased election costs,” said El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Chuck Broerman.

He explained that House Bill 1278 will require the county to double the number of ballot drop-off boxes and expand the number of Voter Service and Polling Centers. The bill also demands that those polling centers stay open longer on election day from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

All of these changes increase costs without any additional state funding.  The goal of the bill seems to be reducing long wait times experienced by many Colorado voters during the 2016 Presidential election. Poll watchers with the Colorado Springs-based non-profit Citizen’s Project told committee members earlier this month that many voters were in line well after polls closed.

“There were still 80 people outside the building, some of them with children, as the temperature dropped to 42 degrees,” said Joy Garscadden. “People got desperate, many asked if they could go to another location, and there was no way to tell them, aside from the fact that I had other volunteers talking to me, that the lines were exactly the same everywhere else.”

Broerman points out that the vast majority of voters, about 95 percent, fill out and return the ballots that are mailed to them. He believes the best way to reduce the wait time on election day is for the Secretary of State’s Office to upgrade the computer system used to register voters.

“The number one cause of wait times is the secretary of state’s application that we use, the software application that we use to register, update voter’s registration and get them a ballot,” Broerman said.

He explained that the current software typically takes between 5 to 7 minutes to register a voter and get them a ballot. In Florida, which also has same-day voter registration, the processing time is closer to 90 seconds.

The bill makes several changes including a provision to allow 17-year olds to vote in primary elections, provided they turn 18 by the November general election. Also, voter registration drives could be held at high schools and registrars could offer registration forms to 16-year-olds want to pre-register to vote.

The bill makes a number of changes to political party organization filing requirements and also eliminates the residency requirement for paid circulators. That requirement was the main sticking point in a legal battle involving Congressman Doug Lamborn over his petitioning on to the primary ballot in 2016.

House Bill 1278 advanced out of the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on 6-3 vote on April 2. It will next be heard by the Committee on Appropriations.