CO Secretary of State, Who Sees "a Lot of Good" in Colorado's 2013 Election Law, Explains Why He'd Still Oppose It

Last month, on Rocky Mountain Community Radio, Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams praised a Pew study for, as Williams put it, "highlighting some of the improvements and the innovations that we try to look at in Colorado."

The Pew study gushed about Colorado's 2013 law, which, among other things, mandated that mail-in ballots be sent to all voters, authorized same-day registration, and shortened the length of residency required for voter registration.

The reforms, according to Pew, reduced election costs by 40 percent, and over 95 percent of voters surveyed were satisfied or very satisfied.

Williams opposed Colorado's election-modernization law when it passed in 2013, stating in a Denver Post column that "the proponents of this bill blatantly disregard your choice as an individual to choose how you exercise one of your most protected rights, and that is a problem." He added that the law is filled with "needless mandates."

"If you, like me, love America's sacred tradition of honest, fair, and transparent elections you should be scared," he wrote.

Williams subsequently praised Colorado's election reforms, well before the Pew Study was published. For example, he lauded the new voting centers and options in Colorado Springs.  And prior to touting Colorado's wide use of mail-in ballots at a 2015 conference, he issued a news release saying, "Colorado continues to lead in a host of areas."

So it was an interesting journalistic moment, after the Pew study came out last month, when Colorado Community Radio's Bente Birkeland asked Williams if he'd oppose Colorado's election law again, after seeing how it's worked.

Yes, Williams said he would oppose it, "Because it didn't include the kind of give-and-take that we've tried to do since I've been Secretary of State, which is to sit down with the stakeholders of both sides ahead of time and work things out."

I wondered if Williams had substantive reasons for his opposition, or if it was just a procedural problem for him. His office provided me with a detailed list of alleged "improvements" made after  the 2013 bill, which was referred to as HB13-1303, passed. A list of  bills that would fix current "issues" was also provided, as well as a list of "additional issues that still need to be addressed." (See these lists below.)

"HB13-1303 made a number of good changes," Williams said in a statement,  "but because of the above issues and because it violates Colorado's Constitution with respect to recall (even with the changes made), I could not support it because of my oath to uphold the Constitution. If introduced today, I would work to fix the above issues through the amendment process--something that was denied in 2013 because of lockstep votes to approve by the controlling party."

Asked to respond to Williams' lists, Elena Nunez, Director of Colorado Common Cause, told me via email:

Secretary of State Williams has shown a great willingness to partner with stakeholders on election issues, and we're proud of the work we've done together this year.

Having said that, it is discouraging to hear the Secretary laud Colorado's election law nationally while trying to roll back the parts of the law that make it such a success. Our approach is innovative because it gives Coloradans convenient options to both register to vote and cast ballots, while creating administrative efficiencies.

...All of his examples of "1303 fixes" in the bipartisan cleanup bill, SB16-142, are election issues that would need to be addressed even if HB13-1303 had never become law.

Here's is Williams' statement and list in its entirety.

There have been a number of improvements to the procedures in 1303 since it was originally passed, including

1) 2014 - Requiring individuals to actually live in a district instead of merely having an intent to live as provided in the original bill.
2) 2014 - Eliminating inconsistent residency requirements where voters could only vote on some issues but were precluded from voting on others (there are still inconsistencies with home rule municipality charters)
3) 2014 - Addressing inconsistencies in special districts and expensive requirements for special districts
4) 2016 - Fixing deadlines for VRDs that precluded VRDs from collecting registrations (potential 1st Amendment violation)
5) 2016 - Eliminating violation of federal law (NVRA) by incorrect use of terms and related issues

There are several bills this year to fix issues with 1303 that are pending:
1) Correcting errors in judge requirements
2) Eliminating ability to vote in multiple states
3) Correcting affiliation issues with primaries
4) Adjusting electioneering requirements to match law
5) Correcting requirement that military and other UOCAVA voters have to apply for mail ballot (1-5 are in the bipartisan clean up bill, SB16-142)
6) Allowing counties to use fewer VSPCs based on actual voter usage. Because of this excessive requirement, efficient counties experienced significant cost increases under 1303. ($200,000 in El Paso County)
7) Requiring photo ID for same day registration and voting - USPS said 40 such voters did not exist when they were sent confirmation card
8) [potential late bill] Correcting problems with watcher provisions

There are additional issues that still need to be addressed:
1) Ensuring that rural Coloradans are not denied equal protection because of disparate mail delivery times by providing 24/7 drop boxes (Voter Choice Act)--reference is 2014 Conejos Democratic primary for sheriff
2) Permitting Coloradans to have choice to avoid coercion or undue influence by opting out of receiving mail ballots (Voter Choice Act)
3) Constitutional change needed to prevent recall procedures in 1303 and 2014 fix bill from violating state constitution (replacement candidates constitutionally have until 15 days before the election to file, but bill requires all voters to be mailed ballots ahead of time)
4) Fixing vacancy procedures to coincide with new timelines

HB13-1303 made a number of good changes, but because of the above issues and because it violates Colorado's Constitution with respect to recall (even with the changes made), I could not support it because of my oath to uphold the Constitution. If introduced today, I would work to fix the above issues through the amendment process--something that was denied in 2013 because of lockstep votes to approve by the controlling party.