Denver’s City Clerk and Recorder Paul D. López is running unopposed for a second term. Here’s a look at how his first term went

His first term as clerk and recorder came with both successes and its missteps.
6 min. read
Denver Clerk and Recorder Paul Lopéz has coffee at Pete’s Kitchen on Colfax Avenue. Feb. 28, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Inside local staple Pete's Kitchen on Colfax sat the Denver City Clerk and Recorder, Paul D. López. Wearing a tailored suit jacket and a white button up to compliment his slicked back hair, he smiled from ear to ear, and signaled over to the bar where he used to sit with the legendary Pete Contos himself.

"I know a little bit of Greek and I knew enough to know when he was insulting me," López said laughing.

One of his prized possessions is a Pete's Kitchen mug that Contos signed out to "Pablo" that now sits in the Clerk and Recorder's office.

The Westside native is running unopposed for a second term as Denver's Clerk and Recorder. He was elected in 2019 and is the first Mexican-American to hold the office.

He was the youngest elected City Council member back in 2007 at the age of 28. He represented District 3 for three terms until 2019 before running for clerk.

On running for a second term, López admits this is the hardest job he's held in his professional career.

"It's the hardest time to be a clerk and recorder...but it is also the most important time. It would not benefit this city one bit if I were to duck out of it. Giving up is not an option," López said.

While its current big focus is the upcoming election, the Denver City Clerk and Recorder does way more than that.

Aside from ensuring fair election processes, the office records and maintains all of the city's public documents. They record land transactions, oversee foreclosures and keep track of marriage licenses. Lopez' team has worked to digitize all of the city's documents, going back to the 1800's.

When López first ran for clerk and recorder in 2019 there was national rhetoric that fiercely opposed the integrity of elections. The growing distrust surrounding elections became a focal point for his campaign.

López notes election deniers and those that have been, "burnt by the system," as two groups that his team has made it a priority to reach out to.

"We regain their trust by involving them. We go to their doorstep. We find out what it is they don't trust. The democracy is theirs too," López said.

Denver Clerk and Recorder Paul Lopez officiates the wedding of Tyree and Yvonne Wilson on Valentine's Day Feb. 14, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

To do this, López has a team of five full-time community organizers that focus on community engagement. They're responsible for increasing participation year-round. Community organizers will even visit unhoused communities.

"Just 'cause you're unhoused doesn't mean you can't vote. These are the folks people forget about. We fight those battles constantly," López told Westword last year of the effort.

The fully funded Civic Participation program is a model that he says is an idea that came from the organizing that Cesar Chavez and Fred Ross Jr. did in the 60's.

"This program is my baby," he said.

His first term as clerk and recorder came with successes and missteps.

Paul Lopez is sworn in as Denver Clerk and Recorder on the City and County Building steps, July 15, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

One of the office's missteps involved mailing 60 ballots to the wrong people. The office spokesperson at the time attributed this mistake to, "a minor data entry error." The error proved inconsequential because the affected districts involved uncontested positions.

Just before the November 2022 election, Denverite broke the news that there were mistakes in the Spanish-language version of the Municipal Ballot Information Booklet. The Clerk and Recorder's office originally attributed the errors to its vendor, United Language Group, before acknowledging that the errors were indeed committed by the clerk's office.

"Mishaps will always happen because you have human beings at the helm of them. It is whether or not you are transparent with your mistakes or not," López said.

Transparency is a focal point for how López said he wants his office operate.

His office offers guided tours of the Denver Elections offices and during elections. It also offers a live 24-hour feed of Denver ballots being processed.

López said is proud of his office's openness about organizational failures. But he also pointed out that part of these mistakes are a result of rolling out new operational processes.

"To be a legislator is one thing. To be an election administrator is quite different. You see how everything operates, the day-to-day." López said.

His office was tasked with rolling out the Fair Elections Fund, a City-council approved fund that was passed in the 2018 general election intended to encourage more people to run for office. The rollout was met with criticism from several Council members for the delay in information from the Clerk and Recorder's office.

For López, the pursuit of fair and transparent elections can sometimes mean landing on the bad side of elected officials who are working on their own campaigns.

"Sometimes I feel like I'm an umpire," López said, referring to the flack that game officials receive in promoting fair play.

One of his successes as Clerk and Recorder is the efforts surrounding voting accessibility. In 2022, Denver Elections had 43 drop boxes around the city, making the county with the second most active voting population number one in dropboxes.

In 2020, the Denver Clerk and Recorder Office partnered with the Denver Sheriff's Department, the League of Women Voters, and the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition to offer in-person voting to inmates awaiting trial or serving on a misdemeanor offense.

López is excited about reaching young voters and giving them a glimpse into the election process early on. His office's Mile High Youth Vote program was created to expand civic education and engagement to Denver students through organizing mock elections at participating schools.

For his second term, López said, voters can expect "more of the same."

Denver Clerk and Recorder Paul Lopéz has coffee at Pete's Kitchen on Colfax Avenue. Feb. 28, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

López has plans to offer more ballot boxes, expand Searchlight Denver program a public-facing campaign finance database where anyone can access campaign finance records. He also wants to make an updated city charter, which documents how Denver is governed, available online and in Spanish.

"When people turn out, it is easier to get things you need in your city. That's a lesson I learned as a councilman and if there was ever a time in history that I was built for, it's right now."

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