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La Plata County hosts Colorado clerks conference

In an age of election denialism, setting standards ‘very important’
Attendees at the Colorado Clerks Association biannual conference at Fort Lewis College on Tuesday participate in a “voter service and polling center scavenger hunt” during which they must note as many problems with the voting station as possible in 3 minutes. (Reuben Schafir/Durango Herald)

Clerk and recorders from most of the 64 counties in Colorado descended on Durango this week for the biannual Colorado Clerks Association conference, along with a veritable who’s who of election officials and vendors – at least to those in the business of running elections.

It is a small community, said La Plata County Clerk and Recorder Tiffany Lee. When problems arise and she faces new challenges, her fellow clerks and recorders in other counties are resources. Lee served as CCA’s president in 2015 and 2020 and said she is asked to host the summer conference because Durango is “a destination.”

This year’s schedule included presentations by Colorado’s Second Congressional District Rep. Joe Neguse, Georgia’s Chief Operating Officer for the Secretary of State Gabriel Sterling, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, and election assistance commissioners Thomas Hicks and Donald Palmer.

Some events are designed to be fun, such as the “voter service and polling center scavenger hunt.” Teams of election officials scour a mock polling place in search of problems. Ballot lockboxes are left unlocked, an illegal campaign sign is posted too close to a polling location, election watchers are sitting too close to the actual voting booths, and the booths and walkways are themselves not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Teams had just 3 minutes to document at least 42 issues in the VSPC.

Other activities, such as Sterling’s speech, were more intense, Lee said. As a ranking official in the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, Sterling gained attention in 2020 after he fought back against false claims of election fraud in the state.

Attendees at the Colorado Clerks Association biannual conference at Fort Lewis College on Tuesday participate in a “voter polling and service center scavenger hunt” during which they must note as many problems with the voting station as possible in 3 minutes. One participant noticed that the ballot boxes were left unlocked. (Reuben Schafir/Durango Herald)

At a time when elections are under increasing scrutiny as dis- and misinformation swirls and spreads at an unprecedented rate, CCA President and Fremont County Clerk Justin Grantham said conferences such as this are critical.

“It’s very important for education, for creating best practices and a basic standard for all the clerks to go off. If we’re all doing it the same way, then people can’t question the legitimacy of any work that we do,” he said. “If La Plata is doing it completely different than Fremont, then there’s a way to question it. But if we’re doing pretty much same process, there is no way to question how we do our job.”

Election Assistance Commissioner Hicks said Colorado is the “gold standard” in terms of how elections are run, alongside Oregon and Minnesota, all of which rank among the states with the highest voter turnout.

“I think that’s a testament to people seeing what’s going on and not having disillusion of the process overall,” Hicks said. “Every election, you’re going to have a problem. There’s no election that’s never had some sort of issue that’s come up. It’s more (a question) of having election officials trained well enough to recognize that problem and correct it and then reassure the citizens that their votes are being counted.”

That process has gotten harder in recent years. Matt Crane, CCA’s executive director, said there has been higher turnover among clerks as election officials have become targets of high-pressure disinformation campaigns.

Sexism plays a role too, Hicks pointed out, noting that 80% of clerks are women.

Lee recalled returning home from a Denver news conference in 2022 where she and fellow clerks tried to dispel false narratives about the 2020 election. When she checked her voicemail, she heard a message from a constituent telling her to “shut your little mouth.”

Although clerks are increasingly investing in technology to bolster security – and this was the first CCA conference that had security officers present – officials say education is the best way to combat concerns over election legitimacy.

“Serve as a poll worker,” suggests Hicks.

Grantham said he goes into schools and runs mock elections to educate students at a young age about exactly how ballots are counted.

“This mis- and disinformation has always been around,” Hicks said. “... The difference now is the quickness of it getting out.”


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