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Democrat Jena Griswold, left, and Republican Wayne Williams debate with other down-ballot candidates for statewide office in Colorado Springs at a face-off sponsored by The Gazette and KOAA-TV on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018. (Nathan Hahn, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Colorado’s Republican Secretary of State Wayne Williams, a lawyer and El Paso County’s former elected clerk and recorder, is being challenged by Democratic attorney Jena Griswold, a first-time candidate in this year’s elections.

They’re chasing a job that includes managing the state’s voter registration, elections and campaign finance reporting, and minding vast amounts of data related to business formation, reporting and dissolution.

Griswold is airing TV ads for the contest and is backed by a national nonprofit that advocates for voting rights. The iVote Fund is putting $250,000 into the contest with TV ads airing around the state.

Williams is taking a lower-profile approach, depending on the job he’s done since 2015 to carry him to a second term. He also has the endorsement of five Democratic county clerks and recorders.

The Colorado Sun talked to both candidates about the issues facing the next Secretary of State:

Election security

Under Williams, Colorado has been recognized as one of the safest places to vote in the nation. The Secretary of State’s office conducted a training event for clerks and recorders aimed at responding to threats, and also cooperated with the FBI on a cyber security training.

Republican Wayne Williams debates with other down-ballot candidates for statewide office in Colorado Springs at a face-off sponsored by The Gazette and KOAA-TV on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018. (Nathan Hahn, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Colorado’s paper ballots and vote-counting systems are key to secure voting, Williams said. But he said his office continues to update systems and be alert for threats.

“We still have to keep being vigilant because cybersecurity is a race that has no finish line,” he said.

Griswold acknowledged the recognition the office has received under Williams.

“I think we are one of the safest states in the nation, “ she said, “but we have to continually innovate.”

She said county clerks need more money to make improvements and update their voting systems.

“One of the things that I want to do is fight for resources for the state system and for county clerks,” she said.

Encouraging voter registration

Griswold said she’d like to see automatic voter registration expanded beyond state driver license issuance to include other offices where people get government assistance, such as when people sign up for Medicaid.

Democrat Jena Griswold debates with other down-ballot candidates for statewide office in Colorado Springs at a face-off sponsored by The Gazette and KOAA-TV on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018. (Nathan Hahn, Special to The Colorado Sun)

And she said she’d like to change the system from an opt-in system, where people agree to register to vote, to an opt-out system, where people are automatically registered unless they ask not to be.

A real-time system to let elections officials know if someone has already voted is also a priority for Griswold. She noted that as El Paso County clerk and recorder, Williams originally opposed having elections be conducted via all mail-in ballots.

Williams said he’s pleased with the level of registration through driver license offices and a program aimed at registering high school students.

“That has resulted in Colorado having being the state with the highest percentage of voter registration in America at 90 percent,” he said.

That statistic is from a Massachusetts Institute of Technology analysis of the 2016 election. Turnout in the state that year was 72 percent.

Williams said he’ll continue to make it easy for voters to return mail-in ballots via dropboxes and reminding voters about delivering ballots in person when it’s too late for mail delivery.

VOTER GUIDE 2018: Resources, explainers, latest news and more

Campaign finance enforcement

A federal court earlier this year overturned the state’s system of referring all citizen campaign-finance complaints directly to a hearing officer, with the burden on the accused to defend themselves.

Williams’ office responded with a new process that requires his office to review complaints and either dismiss them or forward them on to a hearing officer. It also gives the accused a chance to amend filings to correct problems.

“I worked with a counsel for both the Democratic and the Republican parties to get their input, and we adopted a new set of rules,” Williams said.

He said he hopes the legislature will put the new rules into law during the next session.

Griswold said the office should take a more active role in policing campaign finance and lobbyist filings. Now, unless a filing is late or a contribution over a limit, someone must file a complaint if they suspect wrongdoing.

“I believe that we should get more eyes auditing the filings,” she said. “I think there is a duty to audit and enforce.”

Williams said he wouldn’t necessarily propose an auditing role for the office.

“We’re happy to have that discussion with the legislature,” he said. “But then we’ll have to look at a funding source for it.”

Transparency around money in politics

Williams said the office is in the process of updating software for campaign finance and lobbying disclosure. He said he’d consider other changes after the election if it appears necessary.

“I always go back and look at how it worked,” he said. “We do that review.”

Griswold said she’d like to require reporting of independent spending and mentioning candidates by name (electioneering) to cover the entire time between the primary and general elections. Currently, outside groups must report electioneering in the 60 days before the general election and independent spending groups 30 days before.

She also wants to require any mailer to include information on not only the group or candidate who sent it, but for outside spenders, the top donors.

“There’s a lot we can do to tighten campaign finance rules,” she said.

Business filings

Williams is working with other states on a single portal for nonprofits to file to raise money in multiple states. The office also worked with the staff of Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper to create the business portal,, to streamline the registration process.

He said he hopes to expand the site.

“I want to continue to make it easy,” Williams said.

Griswold said she thinks the site could provide more assistance, including information about unemployment insurance, workers compensation and more. The site does provide information about unemployment, licensing and more.

“We want to make it easier because if you need it or if you open your business,” Griswold said, “we want to make sure that you do it right and that you comply.”

VOTER GUIDE 2018: Resources, explainers, latest news and more


Sandra Fish has covered government and politics in Iowa, Florida, New Mexico and Colorado. She was a full-time journalism instructor at the University of Colorado for eight years, and her work as appeared on CPR, KUNC, The Washington Post, Roll...