Secretary of State Williams visits the Valley

VALLEY — Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams admired the scenery and marveled at the warm weather during his visits with five county clerks, including Costilla and Conejos and to see how the southern Colorado officials fared in the Nov. 7 election.

For the most part, pretty dang good considering the clerks for the first time used new equipment from Dominion Voting Systems, and they successfully completed the first ever post-election risk-limiting audit.

Williams met with Conejos County Clerk Lawrence Gallegos in Conejos and Costilla County Clerk Karen Garcia in San Luis. He also met with Montezuma County Clerk Kim Percell in Cortez, La Plata County Clerk Tiffany Parker in Durango and Archuleta County Clerk June Madrid in Pagosa Springs.

In every county, he asked the clerks and their staffs, “Are you getting what you need from our office?”

And the answer always made Williams smile.

Williams visited all 64 clerks’ offices during his first two years in office, and is on his second round of visits.

“I love visiting with Colorado’s county clerks and other concerned citizens about elections,” the secretary said after the trip.

“I am particularly gratified by the reception we received, whether at the League of Women Voters forum in Durango or at remote county clerk’s office. So often people in southwestern Colorado feel isolated from the state. Their TV stations come out of New Mexico, and they feel like state officials only show up when a river changes color.”


Conejos County is getting a new clerk and recorder. The current officeholder, Lawrence Gallegos, has resigned effective Jan. 1 and commissioners have chosen Nathan Ruybal as his replacement. Gallegos plans to join family members who already have moved to Santa Fe.

Gallegos grew up along the New Mexico-Colorado border, a sixth-generation rancher with roots in each state. (Williams drove through a bit of New Mexico in going from Pagosa Springs to Conejos.) Before being appointed clerk in 2006, Gallegos worked for the National Resources Conservation Service, a division within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, at its Costilla County office.

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams let out a big laugh when he visited the office Monday.  A scale sits by one desk and just a few feet away is a closet filled with candy that courthouse regulars come to raid.

“It’s a way to test willpower,” elections clerk Marci Lucero joked.

Gallegos told Williams their election went well. Only one of three school districts had contested races so only 1,400 ballots went out. The small size made it a good election when using Dominion and performing a risk-limiting audit for the first time, he said.

The secretary visited with AnnaBelle Gomez, who is celebrating her 42nd year in the office. She was 24 when she began in 1976 and will turn 66 next month.

“Where did the time go?” she asked.

Despite her tenure, she has only worked under three clerks -- Ruybal will be the fourth -- as Conejos does not have term limits for clerks. Williams asked Gomez how many secretaries of state have held office in her time, and she just smiled and waved her hand.  For the record, Williams is her ninth secretary of state.

“It was a good visit,” Gallegos said. “Wayne’s a good secretary of state.”


Williams isn’t known to arrive early to events, which is why Costilla County Clerk Karen Garcia was gone when he showed up at her office in San Luis shortly after 1 p.m.

Garcia and two of her staffers, chief deputy clerk Najondine Placek and election clerk Miranda Esquibel, had to run an errand in Blanca so decided to take their lunch break, but they canceled their lunch and headed back to meet with the secretary.

Williams noted that the front of the county offices still aren’t marked, which is why the last time he was in San Luis he had to finally stop and ask someone for directions. Garcia said she talked to the road-and-bridge superintendent and he told her to get a sign and bill the county.

Costilla County oversaw two school board elections, and “Dominion and the audit, they all went fine,” she told Williams.

Garcia has worked for the clerk’s office since 1986, and was elected clerk in 2010. Costilla is one of the few small counties in the state that has not waived term limits for clerks so 2018 is her last year in office.

“I’ve enjoyed it,” she said.

Lynn Bartels is communications director for the Colorado Secretary of State.

Caption: Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams visited the Costilla County Clerk’s office recently. With him, from left are Clerk Karen Garcia, chief deputy clerk Najondine Placek, and election clerk Miranda Esquibel./Photos courtesy of SOS

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Conejos County Clerk Lawrence Gallegos, left, and Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams right, are shown with AnnaBelle Gomez, who has worked for the clerk’s office since 1976.

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Williams stands on a county road leading into San Luis in Costilla County.