The sanctity of voting integrity and security came into sharp focus before, during and after the last election, and when states needed expertise on voting at home, they looked to Colorado. The National Vote at Home Institute has its roots here, and former Denver elections director Amber McReynolds is at the helm and joined by Colorado native Audrey Kline.
Kline is the national policy director for the nonprofit that advocates simplifying voting and helping state and local governments do it the right way, because until the politics of last year, few if any of Colorado's mail ballots were viewed suspiciously.
Now people such as Kline are in the political fray as much as they're advising a government process. McReynolds is serving on President Biden's governing board over the U.S. Postal Service.
Kline grew up in Denver's politically purple northwestern suburbs, before getting her undergraduate degree in political science at Metropolitan State College of Denver. She worked almost three years at the state Capitol, including as chief of staff to former Sen. Cheri Jahn. Kline also was the political director for the AFL-CIO's Denver Area Labor Federation, before opening her own consulting practice, Kline Company, which she continues to operate, to advise local and federal campaigns.
In 2014, she was the deputy campaign manager for U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter's reelection campaign. Since 2016, she's worked in more than 30 states on campaign finance and elections compliance.
Colorado Politics caught up with Kline to see how this Coloradan applies a Colorado perspective on elections near and far.
Here's what she told us.
CP: We're in odd times for voting, with the very integrity of democracy beiing into question. What are your concerns about this environment?
Kline: I constantly worry about this environment where there is no longer any common truth. Whether it be around science, history, or the security and integrity of our elections. Our lack of consensus around what is true is really concerning, but also makes me appreciate even more the true states people who work in our government across party lines and across the ideological spectrum.
There are good people everywhere, but they often don’t have the biggest microphones, so supporting them is a passion project for me.
CP: Coloradans haven't had many complaints on voting at home, until the last year. Is Colorado's experience typical to other state's?
Kline: Colorado is the best. First of all because of our green chili, but also because of our creativity and ingenuity around making voting easy and secure. We have an amazing array of smart and dedicated officials and advocates that just rolled up their sleeves and built a system with voters in mind.
As the one and only Amber McReynolds would say, "It’s about who votes, not who wins,” and that made all the difference. I can’t say that every other state takes that approach, but I wish they did.
CP: You saw the voting changes in Georgia, and there are other laws around the country that could change who votes and how we vote. What are the gains and losses in all this. Was giving people food or water in line really a problem?
Kline: My team has tracked over 1,000 individual pieces of legislation relating to voting by mail across all 50 states so far this year. Many are good for voters, some are not, and there are a lot in the middle.
The results are incredibly disparate depending on where a voter lives. Places like Vermont and Nevada are making huge strides forward, but working in states like Georgia and Arizona is like a different universe.
So, to ask if giving people food in water in line is really a problem feels like missing the whole picture. The fact that there are long lines to vote is wrong. The fact that the lines primarily happen in urban and diverse neighborhoods is wrong. Trying to lessen the burden on those — and any other — voters who are trying to overcome obstacles to participate should never be wrong.
CP: If you were the queen of everything, what's a couple of things you would do to make voting more efficient and equitable?
Kline: I feel pretty strongly about setting some federal baselines for voting, like allowing all voters nationwide to request a mail ballot for any reason. I’d also fund elections fully. We expect local elections officials to do far too much with far too little.
We treat election officials as if they are supposed to be experts on law, process, security, communications and cybersecurity, when the reality is that the vast majority of jurisdictions have fewer than five total staff and have more professional responsibility than just running elections. Giving these dedicated public servants the resources they need will make a huge difference.
CP: What's new at the National Voting At Home Institute?
Kline: We grew so much in the last year. Things were so chaotic and high stakes that one of our board members asked me how it felt to ride a tornado and I said, “I’ll tell you when I get off.” I think we’ve finally made a dismount and now we get to think critically about how we can leverage the expertise and case studies not only from Colorado, but now other states like Nevada, Vermont, Hawaii and California that have moved to more innovative models. I think often about making the “more perfect union” that the Constitution envisioned and I get really excited about being part of that evolution, to harness ingenuity and technology to both build, but also protect democracy. Every day is exciting.
Where did you grow up? Arvada
What's your favorite pastime? I love baseball and National Parks. I’m working on making it to every kind of park that I can.
Where did you vote for the first time? I voted my very first mail ballot in the Tivoli cafeteria on the Auraria Campus in 2008 between classes at Metro.
Tell me about your family. My wife and I live in Denver with our dog, Roo. I’m one of four kids from a very blue collar, gun-toting, conservative Christian family.
Coffee, tea or something else? A day that starts without coffee is a bad day.
Favorite pandemic takeout? We’ve been moving to a plant based diet (read: we’re bad vegetarians, but we try) so takeout is usually pizza.
Your first job in high school? I was a sports official for most of my life. I refereed soccer starting in junior high and moved on to baseball later. It’s the family business, and surprisingly good training for a political career.