Because Scott Gessler decided to make a run for the Republican gubernatorial nomination (tough luck, Honey Badger), the Colorado Secretary of State's office is up for grabs in November. On the Democratic ticket is Joe Neguse, who represents Colorado's second district for the University of Colorado Board of Regents (read our profile of Neguse here). The Republican candidate is El Paso county clerk Wayne Williams, who's been on the job since 2010 and definitely seen a lot of action during that time. And not the kind of action that El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa seems to have enjoyed.
See also: Scott Gessler is always right. Right?
During his tenure as El Paso clerk, Williams has been asked to run two recall and work around the Waldo Canyon fire in 2011, making sure the people who had to evacuate still had the opportunity to cast their ballots.
Wayne grew up in the Shenandoah Valley, in Virginia. Before he was old enough to cast a ballot, he involved himself in local politics. While still in high school he organized and campaigned with his fellow students in support of the local Republican candidate, in a county that had been run by Democrats for decades. Williams and company turned the tide and the Republican won.
His parents weren't sure what to make of young Wayne's political inclinations. After his father, John Williams, left the Navy, he worked at a breeding ground for rare and endangered animals for the National Zoo. "So I did grow up in a zoo," Williams says. His mother, Vonda, volunteered at the local hospital. Although neither ever held a public office, they raised their son to have a commitment to hard work and public service.
A week after high school graduation, Williams's friends headed to Virginia Beach to celebrate. Although Williams went, too, it was for slightly different reasons: "I went as a delegate to the state Republican convention," he says.
Williams graduated from University of Virginia Law School in 1989. He was practicing labor and employment law for a Denver-based firm out of its Salt Lake City office when he was offered a job in Colorado Springs. After visiting Colorado, he fell in love with the area and he and his family moved to the Springs in 1992.
Williams has been married to his wife, Holly, for 27 years; they met while working in the student court system at Brigham Young University, and got engaged while working on Capitol Hill. "Her apartment invited my apartment out for ice cream. Sixty days and sixty dates later we were engaged," he recalls. Today they have four children: Sean, who helped design Williams's campaign site; Greg, Lindsey and Wendy. "I've got four awesome kids, and Holly and I are really proud of them," he says.
But he also managed to find time for public service. Two years after he moved to Colorado Springs, Mayor Bob Isaac appointed Williams to the Colorado Springs Housing Authority board.
Before running for county clerk and recorder in 2010, Williams served on numerous boards and committees; he also held the office of county commissioner. In his four years as clerk for El Paso County, he has faced challenges that few other clerks can say they've had the displeasure of encountering.
Three years ago the Waldo Canyon fire forced El Paso County residents to evacuate on the day of the primary. "Our office worked to ensure that everyone effected by that fire had the ability to vote," Williams says. "We took extraordinary steps to transmit ballots in non-conventional ways so that individuals displaced by the fire still had the ability to vote."
Everyone who was effected by the Waldo Canyon fire or the subsequent Black Forest fire was contacted with information on how they could exercise their right to vote, along with what to do about mailing addresses and permanent address changes. The clerk's office also waived fees for those in need of copies of documents that might have been lost in the fire.
The National Association of Secretaries of State recognized the work that Williams and his staff did during the fires and gave his office the Medallion Award.
Colorado state officials have also recognized Williams's work during last year's recall elections.
Now he's running for Secretary of State. As he sees it, there are two parts to the job: running elections and providing great customer service. His reputation and history with both is strong, he says.
His most notable disagreement with Neguse is over voter ID laws. Williams was a supporter of Gessler's public campaign to identify voter fraud. He says he supports voter ID laws, and considers them a useful tool in making campaigns clean, fair and trustworthy. He has testified that using a utility bill as a form of ID should not be valid.
Opponents of voter ID laws argue that the problem of voter fraud is too minimal to make a difference. Williams acknowledges their objection, but believes it still matters. "We had two elections in El Paso County in November decided by one vote. Does it matter? Yeah," Williams explains. "That one person who didn't follow the rules can alter the outcome."
If he wins the office of Secretary of State, Williams says he wants to focus on continuing to improve business and other services that the Secretary of State is responsible for, as well as organizing and running efficient elections. At his Colorado Spring office, the DMV wait times are listed online and personnel at the door can tell you if you have all the necessary paperwork for whatever business you are there to get done; Williams believes such services could be instituted statewide.
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Both the Republican and Democratic candidates agree that the current Tracer program, for groups and individuals running for office, needs some changes. "I think that's one of the things that could be made better. I believe that you ought to have disclosure of donations, and I support that process," Williams says. Along with such disclosures, he'd also like to see searches and filing become easier with the program.
During his time as clerk, Williams has given special attention to military personnel, making sure they have the opportunity to exercise their right to vote. "When you talk about the people who have the most at stake, and the ones who are putting their lives on the line every day to protect that right to vote, that's something that I am concerned about," Williams says. He worked to pass a bill that provided members of the military with ballots for state elections, and currently has a staffer dedicated to insuring that members of the military can exercise their right to vote.
Williams's ultiamte goal is to do a good job in whatever office he holds. "I'm not running for Secretary of State so I can be something else," he says. "I'm running because I care deeply about the right to vote."