Colorado’s tight job market isn’t affecting only fast-food restaurants, convenience stores and other businesses. It’s also a challenge for those who run elections.
Having enough extra hands available to work two elections, the primary in June when parties choose their nominees and the general election in November when voters pick members of Congress, state lawmakers and more, has been a challenge for a while now.
But this year, Colorado’s 64 county clerks are running a third election, a presidential primary on March 3.
Hiring election judges and temporary staffers was among the issues discussed at the Colorado County Clerks Association’s three-day winter conference in Colorado Springs. It ended Jan. 23 with a daylong election security workshop hosted by the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office.
Clerks and their staffers turned out in record numbers for the conference, attending workshops dealing with their varied duties, including motor vehicle registrations and document recording.
Baca County Clerk Sharon Dubois said “the conference did help with our concerns about running three elections.”
The winter conference is also when officers are elected for the association board. La Plata County Clerk Tiffany Parker took over the presidency from Pitkin County Clerk Janice Vos Caudill. Weld County Clerk Carly Koppes is the president-elect and will hold the top job starting next January.
Parker had nothing but praise for her predecessor. She outlined Vos Caudill’s achievements, saying her leadership the past year carried the group through the training of more than 15 new clerks elected in November 2018 and a “very challenging” legislative session.
“Challenging” was a diplomatic word.
The annual elections cleanup, or omnibus bill, is normally routine legislation. But the 2019 effort initially was developed with little input from people who run elections. During the first hearing, county clerks swarmed the Capitol to testify about the problems created by the ambitious legislation.
Some provisions in the measure, such as requiring larger counties to open additional vote centers before the general election, are adding to the hiring challenges.
Jami Gaultney, elections administrator for Adams County, was one of the participants on a panel about election judge recruitment.
She said the effort to hire election judges and temporary workers includes distributing bookmarks and brochures with the Uncle Sam “We want you!” logo at county libraries, motor vehicle offices and other locations.
Part of the problem, Gaultney said, is Adams County can afford to pay only $14 to $14.50 an hour, and neighboring counties can offer higher pay to election workers. (They don’t need to reside in the county where they are working; if you are interested in working an election, contact your county clerk.)
The formula in the 2019 omnibus bill requires Adams County to open an additional four voter centers, where residents can vote in person, seek a replacement ballot, hand in a filled-out ballot and such. How many a county must open depends on a formula set by the legislature.
In the largest counties, former Election Day-only centers will now need to be open the Monday before the general election as well.
“In the past, we could get election workers who already work full time. They could get time off the day of the election and a day for training,” Gaultney said. “I think finding the locations for the extra vote centers and getting people who can work two days is going to be a struggle.”
Adams will probably need to hire around 650 workers for the general election, she said.
In Jefferson County, elections director Cody Swanson said his office needs to hire about 1,000 workers for the general election.
The county will open five additional vote centers and more than double the number of drop boxes where voters can drop off their ballots from 15 to 33, which means doubling the number of teams needed to empty those boxes.
And this comes as the county faces budget cuts, the U.S. Census is offering good wages for temporary work and Colorado just increased its minimum wage.
“It really is the perfect storm,” Swanson said.
He provided a fascinating chart on election judges in Jefferson County. Fewer than 2 percent are between the ages of 26 to 40. More than 78 percent are at or near retirement age. OK, Boomers: you’re pulling your weight!
Another session at the conference dealt with crisis communications and elections. I served on the panel along with Pam Anderson, the executive director of the clerks association, Alton Dillard, the communications guru with Denver Elections and Tammy Patrick, a national elections expert now with Democracy Fund.
I noted that despite my 35 years as a reporter and my time serving as the spokeswoman for former Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, I was better at creating a crisis than handling one. One time, Anderson was at an elections event at MIT and during my references to her on Twitter I mistakenly used the handle for another Pamela Anderson, the sexy icon of "Baywatch," "Borat" and bikini fame.
Luckily Colorado’s Anderson, the election icon, got a kick out of that mishap.
(Full disclosure: I now work as a communications consultant; the Colorado County Clerks Association is one of my clients.)
Anderson pointed to a story from National Public Radio that very morning that said misinformation is the biggest threat to election safety and accuracy.
And it continues.
Patrick took a screenshot of a tweet from the group People over Profit about California’s presidential primary that read, “If you’re not registered Democrat and want to vote for Bernie, do NOT accept a provisional ballot. They’re not counted.”
That’s simply not true.
Each clerks conference has a theme and this time it was “Back to the Future.”
Board members picked their favorite '80s tune and conference-goers had to guess which song went with which county clerk. They also were asked to identify which quote went with which '80s movie.
And oh, the '80s costumes that conference-goers wore to the banquet. The hair in scrunchies. The leg warmers.
That was a different time. Coloradans voted on Election Day at polling places. Now they vote by mail, although some go to vote centers, and the voting starts before the election.
One thing hasn’t changed. The path to democracy still leads right to your county clerk’s door.
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