BY FREDA MIKLIN
In April 2019, Wayne Williams was elected to the Colorado Springs City Council, a job he presently holds. Before that, he was the Colorado Secretary of State from November 2014 until November 2018, when he lost his bid for re-election to the current holder of that office, Jena Griswold, in an election many have called a “blue wave.”
While Williams was in that office, it developed such a strong reputation for safe and secure elections that on May 10, 2018, the Washington Post published an article entitled, “How Colorado became the safest state to cast a vote.” It said that Colorado had done virtually everything election experts recommend states do to ensure safe and secure elections. It noted that in Colorado, the state records every vote on paper ballots (which are processed electronically), it conducts rigorous post-election audits favored by voting researchers, nearly every county is equipped with up-to-date voting machines (and plentiful drop boxes, many of which are available 24/7), election officials take part in security trainings, and IT workers test computer networks for weaknesses.
In 2020, 78% of registered voters in Colorado cast a ballot, the second highest percentage in the country.
The Villager reached out to Williams, a Republican, to find out what he thought about Colorado’s election systems today and how his party chose top-line candidates for its primaries for United States Senate and Secretary of State at its state assembly, who contend that Colorado’s election system can’t be trusted.
He told us, “People were upset with an election outcome and they looked for an excuse for why Trump lost. There is an election (this year) we need to be working on winning. Rather than try to persuade the people who voted for Joe Biden that they made a mistake and they need to make a change in Washington and elsewhere, folks instead are trying to convince the people that they didn’t actually vote that way. And that is not a winning proposition.”
Williams felt that the GOP state assembly held on April 9 became “an unpleasant and entirely too long event. The assembly didn’t finish until the evening… Because of that, in part, you have an increasingly large number of candidates who have chosen to bypass that process and petition directly onto the primary ballot by getting signatures from grass roots Republicans across the state…Heidi Ganahl (candidate for governor), Pam Anderson (candidate for Secretary of State), and Joe O’Dea (candidate for U.S. Senate) petitioned onto the primary ballot. So did many congressional candidates. It follows that supporters of those candidates who petition onto the ballot are less likely to attend the assembly because their candidate is already on the ballot.”
Williams also pointed out that, “Proposition 108 from 2016 that caused unaffiliate voters to be able to vote in party primaries made it so that Coloradans are less likely to affiliate and therefore, less likely to be eligible to participate in the assembly.”
He continued, “All of that has changed who participates. As the NARAL (Not-A- Republican-At-All) Republicans take over, things get more and more crazy.” He pointed to the situation at the state assembly where Stanley Charles Thorne declared himself to be a candidate for the GOP nomination for Attorney General. After making a speech, he got 42% of delegates’ votes, while the other well-known candidate, John Kellner, got 58%. It turned out that Thorne was not even eligible to run for Attorney General in the GOP primary because he was neither a registered Republican nor a licensed attorney in Colorado.
Williams concluded, “By making the assembly unpleasant, you drive away good Republicans who look at that and say, this is not how I want to spend 30 hours.”
We asked Williams what he thinks his party should do to get its members, who hold no statewide elective offices today except for CU Regent At-Large (Ganahl), elected this year. He said, “In order to win in November, we need to make good decisions in June. The focus across the state…should be choosing good candidates in the primary. I think we have an excellent chance to do well in this state if we focus on the actual issues, like inflation and rising crime rates, that we as a party can talk about and persuade unaffiliates, weak Democrats and others that there is a better path that we can go down than we are doing now.”
He continued, “That’s the short term…The longer-term issue is…more complicated…One option is to re-invigorate the caucuses and make it possible for folks who have families and businesses to be motivated to take time off to go to their caucus. Another way is to encourage candidates to focus on using the petition process to get onto the primary ballot, although, with Colorado’s very low contribution limits, it can be very challenging to fund the cost of going through the petition process.” He made the point that the assembly process “is more likely to produce extreme candidates and it is not limited to the Republicans—it happens with Democrats as well.”
We asked Williams one last question. Do you think we still have the reputation as being the safest state in which to vote? If now, how can we get it back? He said, “You need to take partisanship out of the office…to inspire the confidence you have to have in the office of Secretary of State, whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, so that people on the other side will trust you when you say the elections are fair.”