Routt County clerk withdraws party affiliation ahead of 2020 election
Move was to promote voter confidence ahead of 2020 election
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Routt County’s clerk has withdrawn her affiliation with the Democratic Party.
Kim Bonner, who is serving her fourth term as Routt County clerk and recorder, said she is one among many across the country in her position renouncing any political affiliation. Her aim, she said, is to make herself and her office more inclusive and nonpartisan ahead of a contentious 2020 election.
“Politics are getting so intense, I felt that I needed to remove myself from that,” she said.
While the clerk has numerous responsibilities, including the recording of documents like liquor and marriage licenses, Bonner considers the overseeing of the county’s elections among her most vital roles.
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She has been mulling the idea of becoming nonpartisan since the 2016 presidential election. At the time, much of the media spoke of intense political polarization, pitting the left and right against each other in an aggressive exchange of rhetoric.
After a speech from Chris Christie at the Republican National Convention in July 2016, the chant, “Lock her up!” became a mainstay at right-wing rallies, referring to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Clinton, for her part, added fuel to the flames when she referred to Donald Trump supporters as a “basket of deplorables” during a fundraiser in New York City just a month before the election.
Amid the tension, Bonner’s office received multiple phone calls from people asking questions about the voting system, many of them skeptical about its fairness.
“You could tell the trust in the election process wasn’t there for some people,” she said.
In switching to an unaffiliated, or Independent, voter status, Bonner hopes to promote confidence in local elections and boost voter participation.
“The message is, ‘let’s try and get the vote out.’ We don’t care which party is voting,” she said.
Catherine Carson, chair of the Routt County Democrats, supports Bonner’s decision but added she believes the local clerk’s office has always avoided any partisan biases.
“We really have a community and a statewide focus on professional, inclusive and fair elections,” she said.
In other, “less progressive” states, as Carson described them, she acknowledges voter suppression has been an issue. In certain cases, county clerks, which oversee elections in the majority of the nation’s counties, have been to blame.
One example occurred last fall in Kansas, where a clerk in Ford County moved its only polling location to a building outside city limits and inaccessible by sidewalk or public transportation.
The decision prompted a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union, with the aim of forcing the clerk to re-open the previous polling site.
At several conventions, Bonner has heard of clerks from around the country becoming nonpartisan.
“It is definitely a movement nationally,” she said.
But winning an election as an independent poses some challenges.
“You have to circulate a petition, get so many signatures, and you do not appear on the primary ballot,” Bonner said.
Because many people vote for clerks who align with a particular party, running as an unaffiliated candidate can cost him or her the ballots necessary to win.
With plans to retire after her current term ends in 2022, Bonner is not as concerned with her chances of winning any future elections. She just wants to make sure community members keep their faith in the local voting system and in the officials they elect.
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