with Amber McReynolds, Former Denver Director of Elections
Posted Dec 31, 2018
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Colorado achieved the nation’s second highest voter turnout rate in the 2018 midterm election. Now, Colorado’s electoral success is encouraging other states to simplify the voting process.
Amber McReynolds, former Denver director of elections, outlines how local changes are transforming elections within the Centennial State and beyond.
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team
Anderson: The 2018 midterm elections resulted in an historic turnout, hitting a 50-year high. And ironically, in today´s high-tech world, paper ballots could be the solution to getting even more people to vote on Election Day. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Tetiana Anderson. Joining me is Amber McReynolds. She is the former director of elections in Denver, Colorado. Amber is an honoree of Governing magazine´s 2018 Public Officials of the Year. Amber, welcome to the program.
McReynolds: Thanks for having me.
Anderson: Thank you for being here. So, in your role in Denver, you did some pretty monumental tasks. You boosted voter turnout. You cleaned up the voter rolls. How did you do it?
McReynolds: Well, so, I started in Denver about 13 years ago, and when I got there, I found that there was a sense of, "We´ve always done it this way, for years and years, and this is just the way it´s always been. And change is hard," and what have you. And what I found is that the election system generally was not designed correctly for voters, and so I set out to really try to reimagine the process, improve customer service, approach policies in a data-driven way, and advocate for changes that would be pro-voter and voter-centric. And so we were able to do that. We did a variety of things in my time at Denver that I´m certainly very proud of. And Colorado was the second-highest in the country in terms of turnout.
Anderson: In addition to doing things to sort of smooth out the voter process, one of the programs that you instituted actually helps homeless residents. How did those two things come together? And what´s going on?
McReynolds: Yeah. So, there were a couple things that we did with homeless voters in particular. They have challenges with access to the voting process. And so we tried to educate that population on what their rights were and how they could vote, and try to engage shelters and service providers so that they were also communicating with those populations at the right times, to make sure that they had access.
Anderson: Do you think Colorado is sort of setting trends when it comes to the things that you were doing when it comes to voting? I mean, are other states looking to you guys as a model?
McReynolds: Yeah, we very much are a model now, and it very much is about the reforms that we passed five years ago. And what we tried to do what was create a pro-voter policy within our laws, and then create voter-centric processes so that we better serve our voters, our customers, like I like to call them, and make sure their voting experience is good and that they have confidence in the process.
Anderson: You have said before that voter registration and balloting should sort of be a seamless process, and that´s vital to a healthy voting system. Can you explain that? What you mean by that?
McReynolds: Yeah. So, when I sort of say that the election system was never designed for voters, we´ve, in our country -- and this has happened kind of across the nation -- there´s a registration process, so you have to register to vote, and then sort of voting and balloting is kind of the secondary thing, and they´ve never been seamlessly connected so that voters don´t face barriers. So, with registration, a lot of states have voter-registration deadlines or they have precinct-residency requirements. And the problem with that is, it leaves a lot of voters out. And if you move within a certain period of time close to the election, you might not be able to vote or you´ll end up voting at the wrong place or you´ll have to vote a provisional ballot. So what we try to do is reimagine all of that and kind of seamlessly connect those things, where, Colorado, we automatically register you to vote, you can update your address, we use lots of different technologies to compare our data to the National Change of Address database, for example. And what we´ve done then is, we then also follow the registration with a ballot. So a ballot arrives to your home as a voter, and then you have a multitude of ways to return that ballot over a three-week period. So, 24-hour boxes, drive-up drop-off. You can go to a vote center. If people still want to vote in person, you have that option. So you really have all these options available, and that´s why it´s an improved customer experience for the voters.
Anderson: So, we´ve seen, through various elections, that the voting system in the United States isn´t perfect. You´ve made a number of changes. You said that states are looking to you for example on how to do that. How faithful are you that this system can really be perfected for the good of the democracy?
McReynolds: I´m 100% confident it can. I think, our model in Colorado, we have solved, very much, many of the issues that a lot of voters experienced even this past November. And you know, when you see lines that are 4 1/2 hours long or you see people being disenfranchised, their confidence in the system diminishes with every minute that they stand in line and wait to vote. And with the voting process, it´s really the first point that citizens have to engage with their government by selecting the folks that will represent them. And so if their confidence is diminished in the voting process, it´s likely then that their confidence is gonna be diminished in their elected officials or government generally. And so I believe this is very much the first step in continuing to improve the health of our democracy overall. And as people´s confidence improves in the election process, it´ll also then translate to confidence in government generally.
Anderson: Well, it´s all about steps. One step at a time.
Anderson: Amber McReynolds, thank you very much.
McReynolds: Thank you for having me.
Anderson: And thank for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, be sure to visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I´m Tetiana Anderson.