COLORADO SPRINGS, CO — Elections officials in El Paso County haven’t let scores of voters know their precincts might have changed.
The news comes after officials in both major political parties aired concerns to The Colorado Independent about the potential for confusion on March 1, when each will hold precinct caucuses. Democrats expect larger turnout this year because of the tight presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Democratic caucus-goers will vote in a presidential straw poll March 1. Republicans will not, but will caucus about other state, local and congressional elections.
The potential for voter confusion stems from the El Paso County Commission’s re-drawing of precinct boundaries in May 2015. Some precincts in the county had grown larger than the allowable maximum of 2,000 registered voters, and a 2013 change to state voting laws allowed county commissions to redraw the maps. So, in the spring of 2015, commissioners in El Paso County redrew precinct lines that encompass Colorado Springs, the state’s second largest city.
The new changes mean that a voter who caucused at a certain location during the last presidential election in 2012 might not be able to do so at that same place this time around. They affect 61,919 voters in El Paso County, according to Clerk and Recorder Chuck Broerman’s office.
But that office failed to notify voters of the changes, says Broerman’s spokesman Ryan Parsell. Earlier, he had told The Independent the office had in fact notified voters.
Today, in a phone call, Parsell apologized, saying he misspoke earlier.
Prior to a 2013 change to state election law, county clerks and recorders were supposed to alert voters when their precinct lines changed, Parsell says. So he figured that’s what the county did last year after the maps were redrawn.
“That wasn’t the case,” Parsell clarified today, adding that the new state law no longer requires county clerks to notify voters. “We never mailed anything.”
In Colorado, county governments run elections and maintain voter rolls, but political parties run their individual caucuses. In this case, a county government’s change to precinct boundaries could affect where someone goes to their party caucus, but the government didn’t tell voters if they were affected.
“We did expect some notification,” says Kathleen Ricker, chairwoman of the El Paso County Democratic Party. “We’re very disappointed to hear that there absolutely was nothing done. Because this now puts the shoulder on us and we don’t have the resources to do that.”
Ricker says she hopes the county will over the coming weeks find a way to alert voters so “both Democrats and Republicans can have a professional caucus night and not have pure chaos.”
The El Paso County Clerk and Recorder’s office is now looking at options to do just that.
“We haven’t made any hard determination yet,” Parsell said. “We’re trying to strike the right balance because the caucuses are a party function, but obviously what we do can affect how those are run.”
Asked if he felt voters should know if their boundaries changed, Parsell said the county will look at ways to better communicate changes moving forward.
Daniel Cole, director of the El Paso County Republican Party, was more charitable toward the county government and its role.
“People have to be proactive, and it would be nice if the clerk and recorder could notify us individually of everything we need to know, but that’s not feasible,” he said. “So people need to go out of their way to learn the information necessary to allow them to participate in the democratic process.”
It’s unclear how each Colorado county handled communicating changes to precinct boundaries if and when they were changed. Arapahoe County put out a news release on July 1 last year about the changes, and linked to an online map.
Officials from the El Paso County Democratic and Republican parties are urging caucus-goers to find out online if their precinct numbers and locations have changed. Voters can do so at the Secretary of State’s website, either political party’s county website, or by contacting the El Paso County Clerk & Recorder’s Elections Division at (719) 575-8683.
Photo credit: Courtney Dirks, Creative Commons, Flickr.