Joan Lopez: The new face of the clerk and recorder's office

Focus is on voter outreach, staff cross-training, she says

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Joan Lopez, Arapahoe County's new clerk and recorder, was one of three Democrats who beat incumbent Republicans in Arapahoe County races in November, alongside Sheriff Tyler Brown and Assessor PK Kaiser. Lopez, accompanied by Deputy Chief Clerk and Recorder Karl Hermann, spoke to Colorado Community Media about her first several weeks in office and her plans for the future.

What are you working on?

When I took office, I had no leadership team in place. Placing one has been our focus, first and foremost. Our communications director is starting on the 11th. We have two acting roles in place for elections and motor vehicles, and I have Karl (Hermann) here as my chief deputy.

What's going well?

When I started, I came into 14 staff members who weren't trained on motor vehicle titles at the counter. I turned it into a positive: I wanted to train them the way I wanted to do things.

What's been challenging?

My first task was to make sure we had people going to training classes. It's been a great response. A lot of employees weren't cross-trained in anything. It's exciting to hear them say, “I want to learn this.” It makes sure they have a lateral move or promotional move to learn more of what we do in this office.

What are your plans?

My main focus is voter outreach. We've registered nearly 4,000 new voters since I took office. I implemented voter registration training. Right away, DMV staff will ask customers if they can update their voter registration. Our Littleton and Centennial offices had voter registration forms at the DMV counter, but the Aurora office didn't. In the first three days we had the forms in Aurora, we registered 133 people.

Your website mentioned working in elections, but a records request showed you've never held a job title in elections. Can you speak to that?

I covered when elections were on — I would issue ballots, update registrations, and print them over the counter if they were spoiled. A lot of times, I volunteered to do ballot counting or sorting or opening.

What do you need to do to be ready to run elections in Colorado's third most populous county?

Prepare. Make sure everything is updated. We're planning on updating machines — we're we're replacing parts, making sure we have new belts for every machine. Our elections staff is incredible.

You've announced “priority service” for military, police and emergency personnel. Can you speak to that?

I think it's important. They're putting their lives on the line for us. They need to be respected. They need to be able to go back to work protecting us. I think a lot of people don't see that. They think they should be pushed aside and treated like any other customer. If they're in uniform, they get served right away.

What would you say to somebody who had to schedule child care or come over on their lunch break, and sees people jumping to the front of the line?

We have lots of services they can schedule appointments for. The only service they can't is title work. I don't see the lines that long to even service them. We have the kiosks for renewing license plates. You can do appointments for driver's license or handicapped services.

Lopez later emailed an addendum to this answer: "I come from a long line of first responders and an even bigger line of military in my family. My grandfather was in the Air Corp, my son is in the Navy, and my uncle in the Air Force. My cousin was in the military police and my father-in-law is retired Air Force and a retired Denver Deputy Sheriff. These people have been a part of my life and a role model for myself and everyone around them. These are the people that run into your house when it's on fire. These are the people that run into a mall or school when your kid is being shot at. They make sacrifice after sacrifice for you and I, and they need to get back to protecting us and our families as quickly as possible. It should also be noted that before enacting this policy, a half dozen employees that were previously untrained are now fully trained and will reduce wait times in compensation. Another six trainees are about to bolster the counter workforce any day now as well. It has been my intention to reduce wait times and increase productivity throughout the offices. "

The county elections department in a 2017 county survey was the highest rated service in the county. Eighty-seven percent of respondents rated it excellent or good, a jump from 61 percent in 2008. What accounted for that?

KARL HERMANN, DEPUTY CHIEF: House bill 1303. It created same-day registration and mail ballots, and you could vote at any location. It changed the game for the entire state.

What do you need to do to maintain that high rating?

Make sure people stay informed. There's a lack of information out there about voting, how to update your registration, especially in underserved areas. We're looking into videos. Not everybody reads things. It'll be nice if people can turn something on.

What would you like to say?

This is the best job I've ever had. I really like being the boss. My staff has welcomed me so well. That's due to 17 years of working side by side with them. At first, it was really scary because there were a lot of rumors. What's Joan going to do? Will she cut everybody's throat? When you have new leadership, people are worried about change.

Once a week I go to every office. I have an open-door policy. Staff can come to me with complaints. I know what staff goes through.

Things have been busy, but they're going very well.

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