Residents make their voices heard in 2018 midterm elections (copy)

El Paso County is opposing House Bill 1278, which would bolster requirements for voter service and polling centers and ballot drop-off boxes, extend voting hours on election days, and amend other standards related to voter registration, ballot access, and in-person voting. Gazette file photo by Dougal Brownlie.

El Paso County is opposing a bill that would tweak Colorado’s election code to accommodate more last-minute voters, saying the changes would be too costly.

House Bill 1278 would bolster requirements for voter service and polling centers and ballot drop-off boxes, extend voting hours on election days, and amend other standards related to voter registration, ballot access, and in-person voting.

El Paso County officials say the proposed law, which would cost the county up to $1.7 million in 2020 if it takes effect, is an “unfunded mandate” that would force the county to trim budgets for road improvements and other county projects.

“We’re not going to raise taxes, so that money has got to come from somewhere,” said Mark Waller, Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners, which unanimously resolved on Tuesday to oppose the bill.

Proponents of the bill say it would expand voter access by reducing wait times for those who wish to cast their ballots in person as election deadlines near.

“It re-allocates resources to ensure that voters have access to more services the last few days before an election happens. That’s really based on voter behavior — things we’ve seen over the last few election cycles,” said Deb Walker, executive director of the local civic engagement organization Citizens Project.

But Clerk and Recorder Chuck Broerman said wait times are a moot point for many El Paso County voters because 95 percent of them vote by mail ballot.

About 310 voters, many of whom needed a replacement ballot or to register to vote, waited more than 30 minutes at three of the county’s voters service and polling centers in the hours before the election deadline in 2018, Broerman said. But that problem could be solved — for “a fraction of the cost” that it would take to implement the changes proposed by the bill — by adding a few more staff members, laptops and printers at those locations, he said.

“We’ve got well-meaning folks in Denver who believe that they can run elections better than the professionals who do it everyday,” he said. “One size doesn’t fit all. Every county is unique.”

The vast majority of the state’s 64 counties have expressed similar concerns about the bill. During a legislative committee meeting of the Colorado County Clerks Association shortly after the bill was introduced, representatives from about 50 counties voted unanimously to oppose the measure, said Pam Anderson, executive director of the association. The bill has since been amended to address some of the clerks’ concerns, and county officials are still working with lawmakers to fix other issues with the proposal, she said.

Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a supporter of the bill, has said that wait times exceeded an hour at polling locations in some parts of Colorado, including Denver and El Paso counties, during the last general election.

“This can have a disenfranchising impact,” Griswold said while testifying at an April 2 hearing before the House Committee on State, Veterans and Military Affairs. “It’s time to end long lines at the polls here in Colorado. I believe that working people should have access, if they get off late, to get to a polling location, so that they can have their voices heard in our democracy too.”

The measure, which has been referred to the House Appropriations Committee, is sponsored by state Rep. Susan Lontine, D-Denver, and Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder.

Load comments