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How to have an election: an insider's tour of the Denver Elections Division

Eleanor Shroeder headshot
Eleanor Schroeder, Bill Lane Center intern with the Elections and Redistricting Department at the NCSL

Eleanor Schroeder, '22
Hometown: Texarkana, TX
Area of Study: Political Science
Intern, National Conference of State Legislatures, Elections and Redistricting Team

Eleanor Schroeder tours the Denver Elections Division Office during NCSL’s Legislative Summit

Each year, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) hosts the Legislative Summit, the nation’s largest gathering of state legislators and legislative staff. The goal of the conference is to facilitate the sharing and discussion of innovative and effective policy solutions to problems facing states and the nation as a whole. This year, the Summit was held at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver from August 1-3 and had over 4,700 attendees. As a Bill Lane Center intern with the Elections and Redistricting Department at the NCSL, I was able to attend and provide logistical support. 

At Summit, my responsibilities involved ushering attendees, running microphones during sessions, and making connections with others working on election issues, but since I am working virtually from Texas this summer, Summit also became a wonderful excuse to meet my coworkers in person and travel to a new city. Each day, I attended three or four panel discussions featuring policy experts and state leaders who provided insight on various topics related to election administration and redistricting. Some of the sessions that my department held included: “A Deep Dive into Ranked Choice Voting,” “Strong Elections & Strong States,” “Elections: Little Changes & Big Impact,” “Three Theories That Could Reshape Elections and Redistricting,” “Rumor Control: How to Combat Election Mis- Dis- and Malinformation,” “Making Sense of the Census,” and “Redistricting: Unpacking 2020.” These topics are of significant interest to me personally and, given the fact that our sessions were extremely well attended, election administration appears to be a pertinent issue for legislators across the political spectrum and their staff. NCSL and partner organizations also hosted happy hours and networking events—the Mile High Extravaganza on the final evening even featured fireworks. 

However, the highlight of my Summit experience was an off-site tour of the Denver Elections Division at the Office of the Clerk and Recorder, organized by my supervisor Dr. Amanda Zoch. Around 50 state legislators and legislative staff gathered at our bus for a short drive from the convention center. After going through security and receiving our official election observer badges, the group gathered in the large foyer which was previously an in-person voting area—Colorado is now a vote-by-mail state, though in-person voting is still available. There, we were welcomed by the Denver Clerk and Recorder Office’s Communications Manager, Alton Dillard, who led the tour and aimed to present their office as a model for election administration around the country and the world. Dillard explained the goal of the division is "to conduct Denver's elections in a fair, accurate, accessible, secure, transparent and efficient manner; to educate and encourage the public to participate in the voting process; and to maintain accurate voter registration and election records." Clerk and Recorder Paul D. López also graciously joined the tour and shared his insights. 

López and Dillard spent nearly two hours leading us from room to room and demonstrating the meticulous process through which ballots are mailed, returned, received, verified, processed, counted, reported, and audited. They discussed security, accessibility, and fairness, and though the tour group consisted of visitors across the political spectrum (including me, a nonpartisan NCSL representative) we all were generally able to acknowledge the necessity of these values despite the politicization of election administration in recent years. Though they seemed to predict any question that could be asked, when legislators or staff had questions or concerns, the office had thoughtful and deliberate policies about all aspects of Denver’s elections. That very day, the office had conducted a recount of the GOP primary results. After reprocessing thousands of votes, the election results were exactly the same down to the precise number of determinative votes, indicating the accuracy of the process. 

Participating in this tour alongside lawmakers was interesting and exciting as I considered the impact that this experience could have on state and local election policies around the country. A focus on increasing access to the ballot box while safeguarding election integrity seems to be a trend in most states. In previous internship experiences, I have considered access to the ballot box from an advocacy perspective. This summer, I have appreciated my internship at NCSL for exemplifying the potential to impact policy by presenting research and facts to legislators. 

 

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