Meet the Candidates for Denver County Clerk and Recorder
For almost 50 years, Colorado Common Cause has led efforts to protect and strengthen the right to vote in our state. We were instrumental in creating an election model where ballots are delivered by mail to all voters, in-person voting options are preserved, and same-day voter registration is available. Our election protection program also provides Coloradans with nonpartisan voter information; and we work with officials to ensure our elections are secure. Currently, in Denver County the residents are starting to cast their vote for either Paul Lopez*, Sarah McCarthy, or Peg Perl for the next Clerk and Recorder.
We took the opportunity to send each candidate questions to see why they are running and where they stand on certain issues. Colorado Common Cause does not endorse candidates we simply hope to provide Denver voters with information so that they can make informed decisions.
*at the time this was posted Paul Lopez has not responded with answers to the questions sent
Colorado Common Cause: What is your vision for the Clerk and Recorder Position and what would you change from the previous administration?
Peg Perl: My vision is an office that works to keep city government accountable, transparent, and accessible to the people of Denver on election day, and every other day decisions are made about our city. I will ensure our elections remain secure, well-administered, and increase voter information to avoid confusion especially around the Presidential Primary election in 2020 when unaffiliated voters will be sent a ballot for the first time. I will use my experience in campaign finance regulation to build, administer and enforce the new Fair Election Fund public matching program to expand participation of Denverites as donors, candidates, and voters in our city elections. I will use new appointment positions created to break down silos between divisions and integrate public information for residents to use across the Clerk’s office, so everyone can be more informed and involved in our city. I will continue my relationships with leaders and community groups to improve access to the Clerk’s services for working families and residents across the city. I have collaborated with the current administration in modernizing elections and some public records disclosure over the last 8 years, and my goal is to build on that foundation and continue to improve the access to voting and records for all communities in our city.
For example, building upon the work of the current office to digitize information that was previously held only on paper, I will move forward by posting a full inventory or directory of all public records available from the Clerk’s office, because there are a number of city records that are not advertised as available. Then I will work to make these records searchable and available online as well as explore partnerships with the public libraries for offline access to much of the Clerk’s information. Similarly, the Clerk’s website needs to be more mobile-friendly to make information accessible for those whose only internet access is through a cell phone. Finally, I would like to partner more directly with the Denver Board of Ethics to coordinate on the shared responsibilities over ethics filings from government officials such as gift reports and financial disclosures.
Sarah McCarthy: Maintaining the trust of Denver voters is my primary goal, achieved when they feel certain that the vote cast is the vote tallied. This will be accomplished by keeping the voting process as close to paper as possible while supporting a variety of voting methods to respond to our differently-abled voters.
The trust of Denver voters is an invaluable public asset that is vital to community participation. We are fortunate to have a voting system in Denver that is considered a model for the nation, but rules, laws and technology change so the office must continue to seek new safeguards as well as continuing its efforts of transparency. Another very important consideration will be the evaluation of the mobile voting test (phone app) in this municipal election, which uses blockchain technology. Independent verification of its security to ensure that there are no backdoors into its code will be a critical element of this evaluation. The Elections Division’s continuing efforts to ease the process of voting will demonstrate the integrity of this office and secure public trust.
Another important focus as Denver’s next Clerk will be the implementation of the Fair Elections Fund that introduces public funding in Denver’s municipal elections. See responses to Questions #3 and #4 for more details.
Immediate attention will also be given to the results of a recent city audit that discovered concerns about internal controls in the Public Trustee section of the office. Despite a good real estate market, approximately 500 foreclosures are processed annually with $24 million handled on behalf of others. As Clerk, I will follow best accounting practices to reflect the true volume of money processed to ensure transparent accounting reports to the public. Transparency also involves improving the ease of use and consumer access for all the Clerk’s services, including working to streamline access to the information our consumers need from the multiple databases now online.
CCC: Common Cause works to create more transparency and accountability in government, how are you planning to make sure that the elections in Denver reflect those values?
Peg Perl: As one of the policy advocates who helped write, pass, and implement our Colorado election modernization law in 2013 with many individuals from Colorado Common Cause, I am committed to keeping a secure election system in Denver that is a model of transparency and accessibility to all voters. Every election since 2012 in Colorado, I have been part of nonpartisan efforts to observe, troubleshoot, and help voters in order to make sure our voting process – and ballot counting process – is open, secure, and accurate. When people have faith and trust in their elections and government, they are more likely to engage in public decision-making on the issues that matter to their community.
Some of the ways that I would continue to improve elections consistent with those values and goals are first, to support expanding automatic voter registration at the state and city level to keep all voters records up to date without additional burdens on the voter. Recent reforms mean that when a voter gets a driver’s license or other ID from Department of Motor Vehicles they are registered to vote (if eligible) and any changes to their address in an existing voter registration record is updated. However, we know that not everyone goes to DMV right away, or at all. So, I will look to expand this policy so that many interactions between a voter and a city service becomes a voter registration or address update event: social services, tax registration, paying a parking ticket, library card, recreation center membership, etc. This will keep voter registration addresses more up-to-date and should ensure that low-income voters who move more often between elections still receive a mail ballot at this correct address.
I am also committed to a robust community stakeholder input process on where and when vote centers should be open and how we can best provide public information to all voters where they can get voter services. For example, I am opposed to using police stations as voting centers because they are not a welcoming location for many communities including recent immigrants, low-income voters who might have unpaid parking tickets or fines or similar concerns regarding law enforcement locations, and people of color who have faced racism and oppression from police action and over-incarceration. We should also evaluate the hours we have early vote open, including how many weekend and evening hours, to accommodate different types of shift work schedules. I also plan to include more public information about voting and registration options all-year-round instead of just bombarding voters with information in the final weeks before an election. This is especially the case for odd-year elections like municipal and school board where we have a voter turnout gap with only between 35%-45% participation rate historically.
Sarah McCarthy: As noted in the answer above, a voting process that stays as close to paper as possible is the best surety for transparency and accountability in our elections. It is important to provide a variety of voting methods and locations to ensure that the distribution across Denver’s culturally and demographically diverse neighborhoods is functional (i.e., works) and equitable. The office should continue to analyze voter turnout and behavior to determine an ever more equitable distribution of resources and to identify challenges (what’s not working) both systemwide and in specific locations.
When new technologies are introduced, there should be efforts to secure independent, third-party verification of security of the program, processing device, or electronic voting equipment. These efforts are vital to transparency and accountability. I would also look to return to public school sites for some of the voter service centers to save parents’ time and raise civic awareness among our young and future voters in Denver neighborhoods.
CCC: The Campaign Finance Reporting System – where is this on your priority list? How do you plan to make this more accessible and transparent?
Peg Perl: Since I started my first position writing regulations and advisory guidance at the Federal Election Commission in 2004, I have spent 15 years focused on improving campaign finance disclosure at the federal, state, and local level to give voters the information they need before casting their ballot. Updating and improving the campaign finance reporting system is a very high priority during my first year in office if elected Clerk. For years at Colorado Ethics Watch and in cooperation with Colorado Common Cause, I have advocated on behalf of the public for a Denver system that is easier for residents to search and use in order to understand the information captured in that database. As a candidate, I have also seen that the current system is not easy to use for filers either. So, a complete overhaul is needed and that is in progress. Because of the passage of 2E, the time is right for the office to design a new disclosure system that brings greater transparency to campaign spending and accountability in the new public funds matching program effective January 1, 2020. My ideal system would have a searchable interface on the website that allows you to find information by contributor or candidate and to link up information between political committees acting at the city and state level by directing to information in the state TRACER system as well.
In addition to improving the searching and linking within the campaign finance information, I plan to enable users of this system to also cross-reference other disclosures available in the Clerk’s office. For example, I would create a page where a user can select any city elected official and have access to their related campaign finance, financial disclosure, lobbyist, and gift reports in the same place because all these reports are already in the Clerk’s office. I also want to incorporate no-bid contract campaign contribution disclosures into the same searchable system, since these are also currently kept by the Clerk but not available online. Breaking down silos between the related information held in different parts of the Clerk’s office will make these public disclosures more accessible to residents and also provide more context for digesting that information. I believe this is the ultimate goal of transparency and public disclosure duties of the office.
Sarah McCarthy: Implementation of the Fair Elections Fund (Democracy for the People) is near the top of my priorities. With it comes a new set of campaign reporting requirements: tracking of candidates who opt-in for public financing of their campaigns from those who opt-out. A new sophisticated system will be needed that goes beyond simple reporting to also identify qualifying contributions eligible for public funding match and qualified expenditures. The system to identify the Fair Elections Fund components will need to be combined with an upgrade of the City’s traditional campaign finance reporting. The Secretary of State’s Tracer system for campaign finance reporting allows for instant online access to reports and searchable data. This should be a goal of Denver’s new, upgraded reporting system.
Denver’s current reporting process translates various report information to codes, such as those associated with location of donation source (city & state) that delays the ability to achieve instant online access as well as masks information that is useful to the consumer. Eliminating the use of such codes where possible will be another important step toward greater transparency and accessibility of campaign finance information.
CCC: In November, Initiative 2E passed, Democracy for the People. How do you plan to successfully implement this initiative?
Peg Perl: I am the only candidate with experience at the federal, state, and local level with writing, implementing and enforcing campaign finance policy. I have the experience to properly build this system so that it is transparent to all as a check on the use of public funds, and to incorporate the will of the voters who enacted it. As Senior Counsel with Colorado Ethics Watch, I had a lead role in creating the policy that became 2E, along with Colorado Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, CoPIRG, Represent.us and CleanSlateNow. We have seen with similar public matching fund programs in Los Angeles and New York City that a well-run program results in expanded diversity in race and economic background of city candidates and participating donors in city elections. The key to success is a clear set of regulations, user-friendly disclosure systems for transparency, public education and training for compliance, and a proactive plan to enforcement to avoid violations in the system.
I will use my years of experience in campaign finance training, preparing instructional and explanatory information, and advisory opinions so that all candidates, committees, political stakeholders, donors and voters will understand how the new program operates and have proper guidance to comply with the new rules. I will make sure the Clerk’s office takes seriously its responsibility to enforce these rules, but it is not a vehicle for political games of “gotcha” – we will have clear rules of the road and public reporting that is easy to file and easy for voters to find. I have been involved in campaign finance enforcement cases at the state level for many years and will put those lessons learned from recent changes in the state system into the design of this new program. This is a huge new responsibility of the next Clerk not only for the next term but going forward for years to come in our city’s elections. We need to do it right from the beginning and it could serve as a model for similar reforms at the state level in Colorado in the coming years.
Sarah McCarthy: Unless there is need for a special election in Denver, it is anticipated that the first distributions from the Fair Elections Fund will occur in August 2022 for an election cycle that begins January 1, 2020. In the meantime, new rules need to be drafted, reviewed and approved. Denver’s campaign finance reporting system will need to be upgraded to account for candidates who opt in or out and for qualifying donations and expenditures. These details need to be coordinated with Denver’s routine campaign finance reporting duties.
It is paramount to determine unintended consequences that may surface as implementation of this initiative proceeds. For example, will this funding mechanism have the effect of stretching municipal campaigns over as much as 12 months? If so, this timeframe would overlap with campaigns for state and federal offices, which the average voter may find confusing and, candidates for state and federal offices, frustrating. How Denver voters respond to this new timeline needs to be considered.
Another consideration is how far will the Fund’s maximum of $8 million stretch when distributed among the dozens of potential candidates who could become eligible for the Fund’s distributions as much as eight months prior to the scheduled municipal election. Other questions concern distribution of funds before a candidate is officially on the ballot or months before a determination has been made that there are no opponents for a particular office. It needs to be considered how the Clerk might invoke Section 15-58 regarding insufficient program funds well in advance of a general election or when a special election is called.
It is exceedingly important to have the Fair Elections Fund demonstrate its integrity, especially in its first election cycle, and facilitate the initiative’s goals of giving “greater voice to small donors, thereby encouraging more citizens to get involved…” (City Ordinance Section 15-31(c).