Editor’s note: Roughly 10,000 officials across the country run U.S. elections. This interview is part of a series published each month that highlights the election heroes and heroines who are the faces of democracy.
Republican Carly Koppes is the clerk and recorder in Weld County, Colorado, a sprawling, 4,000 square mile, largely agricultural county in the northeastern part of the state.
A former rodeo queen with a second degree black belt in American Kenpo karate, Koppes has been working in the clerk and recorder’s office for roughly 19 years — since June 2004. She started in the office ahead of the 2004 election as a temporary worker, as a favor to her grandmother, a Democrat who once worked on John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign and volunteered as an election judge well into her 70s.
When Koppes was elected as clerk and recorder in 2014, she earned the distinction of being the youngest person ever elected as Weld County’s clerk and recorder. Koppes has worked more than 30 elections.
Born and raised in Greeley, Colorado, Koppes currently owns five horses, and enjoys fishing, gardening, and crafts. She is a past president of the Colorado County Clerks Association, and she currently serves on the Local Leadership Council of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Since 2022, she has been part of Issue One’s Faces of Democracy project advocating for protections for election workers and for regular, predictable, and sufficient federal funding of elections.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Issue One: How did you end up in this profession?
Carly Koppes: Completely by accident is how I ended up in this profession! I was graduating high school in May of 2004, and the clerk and recorder prior to me had asked my grandmother if any of her grandkids needed a job, because he was needing temporary help for the presidential election in 2004. My grandmother called me up. I came in and interviewed, and I became a temporary employee for the presidential election. And 19 years later, here I am.
Issue One: How many voters are on the rolls in your jurisdiction, and what are the main challenges of a jurisdiction of that size?
Carly Koppes: We are a little over 220,000 registered voters here in Weld County. Not only is it a challenge with that many, but I am also a little over 4,000 square miles.
One of the biggest challenges is communication. The ability to communicate to one section of Weld County can be easy because it is urban. But trying to have that same communication to a rural area is super challenging.
Issue One: If you could speak to one common misconception about election administration, what would you want to clear up?
Carly Koppes: There isn’t any type of Wizard of Oz-ery going on. I understand the gravity and responsibility of running elections. I understand that the ballot is everybody’s greatest equalizer, not only in my county and state, but the nation. The ballot doesn’t know if you’ve got two cents in the bank or two million dollars in the bank. Both of those ballots are exactly equal in the eyes of what we do.
The people like myself in election offices, we understand the responsibility that it is on our shoulders. We have a living, breathing government in the United States, which is fantastic. We are the gatekeepers to that living and breathing government. It would be really nice for people to remember that I’m human just like they are human. I’m a real person too.
Issue One: What is the price tag of running an election in Weld County?
Carly Koppes: It depends on the election. For this upcoming, coordinated November election, we are probably looking at between $500,000 and $700,000 for everything that we need to do. That’s including election judges [as poll workers in Colorado are known], printing costs, equipment maintenance, and all that kind of stuff.
Next year, we have three elections we need to run here in Colorado. We’ve got the presidential primary, then the June primary, and then the November general election. We’re probably going to be looking at about $1.5 million to $1.7 million solely for the general election. And the two others combined will probably be around $1 million.
Issue One: A lot of people are surprised to learn that the federal government doesn’t routinely fund election administration. Why do you think the federal government should regularly fund elections?
Carly Koppes: They should pay some of the burdens of this because we are running their elections for them. We are running the U.S. House of Representative elections. We are running the U.S. Senate elections. We are running the presidential elections.
Issue One: If your jurisdiction had extra funding, how would you spend it?
Carly Koppes: Advancing audits of results and transparency, and being able to adequately pay these amazing poll workers that we call election judges, and being able to adequately support and pay my year-round election team.
Issue One: A lot of jurisdictions have limited funding for elections. What tips or tricks of the trade have you utilized to get the most bang for the buck in your area?
Carly Koppes: Budget, budget, budget. And pilot anything and everything you possibly can. That has been the best way for us to make advancements and really try and utilize each dollar to the best of our buck.
Issue One: What practices have you employed to help you run elections efficiently?
Carly Koppes: We are always just looking for ways that we can be efficient but still keep our security and transparency up. We have implemented different technologies to try and assist with that. For instance, Weld County invested in automatic signature verification technology to help us with the signature verification part of our process. And one of the other biggest things that helps us be efficient is when we have our volunteers return election after election after election, because they are just continuing to build on their knowledge.
Issue One: What kinds of gaps or challenges exist in places that might be struggling to be more efficient?
Carly Koppes: When we see a county struggle, it’s because they don’t have the funding, and they also just don’t have the volunteers. They don’t have the amount of election judges that they need to be as quick with what they are needing to do in the timeframe that they have. It really does come down to that.
Issue One: Is there anything else you’d like to say about why it’s important for elections to receive more regular and consistent federal funding?
Carly Koppes: The last thing that we want is for us to become vulnerable at any point in time, especially since elections have been designated critical infrastructure at the federal level. We have seen what the mis-, dis-, and mal-information campaigns have done to our credibility. More funding right now would be so important because we need to focus on getting the correct information out there and battle these people who have larger microphones than I do. Unfortunately, nobody really knows who Carly Koppes is, but everyone knows who [My Pillow CEO and election denier] Mike Lindell is.
Issue One: What is your favorite book or movie about politics?
Carly Koppes: I really wish there was actually a book written about my grandmother. She was one of the only female people who was on John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign. She ran his campaign on the Western Slope in Colorado.
Issue One: Outside of being passionate about running safe and secure elections, what are your hobbies, or what’s a fun fact that most people might not know about you?
Carly Koppes: I’ve been on the back of a horse since the time I could sit up. I have done all sorts of dialects — English riding, Western riding, rodeoing. That’s one thing that I absolutely love. I still have five horses, and I’ve got two under two. That’s been super fun. They crack me up every single day.
And then another random thing that people don’t usually know about me is that I actually am a second degree black belt in American Kenpo karate. I’ve been studying karate since I was three years old.
Issue One: I hope you’ve never had to use karate on the job.
Carly Koppes: I have not had to use karate on the job, thank goodness. Even when I had people pounding on the door, I didn’t have to, so we’re good.
Note: This piece was cross-published with The Fulcrum.