Photos: Scott Gessler votes "yes" on Filipino food, "no" on criticism of his office

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Politicians -- they're just like the rest of us! But sometimes, when they eat food, it has a bit more significance than just, you know, lunch. Such was the case with Secretary of State Scott Gessler's noon stop yesterday at the 16th Street Mall's Taste of the Philippines food truck -- whose owner just so happens to be featured in one of Gessler's advertisements encouraging Colorado residents to register to vote.

It was a fun lunch break for Gessler, who continues to face criticism for both his efforts to weed out illegal voters, and even for his campaign dedicated to increasing voter registrations. While some of his critics and county clerks across the state have spoken out against this registration effort, Gessler continually argues that the unprecedented $850,000 initiative targeted at getting more people registered has been a huge success. He is announcing the official results of voter registration today at an 11 a.m. press conference.

And one of the people who played a small part in his ad campaign got a chance to meet Gessler for the first time yesterday -- the last day that Colorado residents could register to vote for the upcoming election. It was also a first for Gessler, who said he doesn't think he's ever eaten Filipino food.

Kathy Gietl, the owner of A Taste of the Philippines food truck on 16th and Champa, served Gessler chicken adobo, manok sa gata and lumpia -- all traditional Filipino dishes. The secretary of state ate his lunch at a small table on the 16th Street Mall, alongside his spokesman, Rich Coolidge.

"It's sort of neat. I've been looking at that poster, and I was like, we've gotta hunt her down and give her a copy of it," Gessler said. "She was great on camera.... It's just sort of neat to meet the people that were in it, who helped us out."

As part of the registration initiative announced in early September, the secretary of state's office launched television, radio, print and online ads.

Here's one of the spots, with Gietl featured at the 0:11 mark.

The ad campaign features an actor, local comedian Jordan Doll, going around the state asking random people he stops if they've registered to vote. Everyone else featured in the commercials are just random individuals -- and for the most part are impossible to track down.

But an intern for Gessler's office was able to find Gietl and her popular food truck on the Mall.

So Gessler decided to have a quick lunch visit with her and deliver one of the posters that features her.

"It's awesome -- I'm all giddy," said Gietl, 29, as Gessler chowed down. "It's great for business...and it's my little fifteen minutes of fame."

She said she was happy to participate in the ad as long as she didn't have to discuss her own political views or which candidate she would be voting for in November.

"A lot of people think voting doesn't matter, but it does," she said, adding that she hopes more people registered to vote because of the commercial.

Continue for more photos and comments from Gessler on his latest registration criticisms. The food-truck stop for Gessler was likely a nice break on the busy final day of registration -- and just a day after he was blasted by the Colorado County Clerks Association for a lengthy list of "errors and oversights" -- including mistakes with the voter-registration mailing sent out as part of his whole campaign.

Just before he sat down to eat, Gessler told us that he was genuinely surprised by the criticisms, which, according to the Denver Post, include complaints about an emergency rule he adopted related to ballots and a glitch with a mobile-optimized version of the registration site.

"We had a two-hour meeting with [the association]...where they didn't bring a single one of these things up," he said. "I think you have some of the clerks and recorders in that association who are maybe speaking for other people that don't fully represent their views, because a lot of the things that they were frustrated with are stuff that we've really pushed to help people to register to vote."

We reached out this morning to the association and will update if we hear back.

Gessler said that most of their complaints are about efforts that have ultimately increased registrations.

"Online voter registration has been a huge success," he said. "Right now, we're at about 400,000 more registered voters now than four years ago, which is a huge increase. Since the beginning of September, we've had over a million people visit our online voter registration system.... The stuff that they were sort of complaining about...has been overall, I think, a huge success in Colorado. Obviously, there are some clerks and recorders who are unhappy with the implementation details. I think you're always going to get that. Obviously, I want to make sure that we implement things as well as possible, so if there's room for improvement, we'll do that. But I think that some of them were just being a little bit unreasonable."

He said that registration has gone very well, noting that on Monday, the website logged 85,000 visits.

While Gessler, a Republican, has faced a steady stream of criticism in the months leading up to the election, this letter was perhaps more unusual given that the attack was not from a left-leaning group but from a mix of clerks from both parties (though it's certainly not the first time he has clashed with county clerks this election cycle).

Gessler often brushes aside criticisms as partisan attacks on his office -- so was he surprised that this was in theory a more bipartisan critique?

"Not entirely," he said. "Before I even came into office, I had some big fights with the clerks and recorders, where they tried to change the way we do balloting here in the state of Colorado and I opposed that. So I had a lot of clerks that were very upset with me. And this may be some residue from that anger they had."

"I know it's always been that way," he added of the clashes between the Secretary of State, who oversees elections, and the county clerks, who work on the local level. "It would be nice if everyone would recognize the good...but I think that tension's just sort of always been there."

Continue for more photos.

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Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.

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