Bernie Buescher, Colorado secretary of state, poses in front of a sign for Colorado’s newest voting precinct Tuesday morning at Hamilton Hall. Buescher presented grant money to remodel the center to meet state requirements and reopen the hall as a voting center.

Photo by Shawn McHugh

Bernie Buescher, Colorado secretary of state, poses in front of a sign for Colorado’s newest voting precinct Tuesday morning at Hamilton Hall. Buescher presented grant money to remodel the center to meet state requirements and reopen the hall as a voting center.

Colorado secretary of state presents $18,450 grant to Hamilton

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Secretary of State Bernie Buescher speaks to a group of Hamilton residents Tuesday morning at Hamilton Hall. Buescher delivered a check for $18,450 from the state to make the facility handicapped-accessible.

The old hardwood floors of the Hamilton Community Center are stained with history.

Over by the front window, which looks across Colorado Highway 13, a dark patch marks the spot where oil cans once were stacked in the corner of the Hamilton General Store before it closed 1976.

“The cash register was over there by that ink spot,” said Marjorie Forbes, a longtime Hamilton resident and member of the community center board.

“When we decided to redo it, we wanted to keep the floor that way. It really means a lot to us.”

In 1987, the hall was converted to a community center, which served as a voting center for Hamilton’s 150 residents each November.

For the past two years, however, the hall failed to meet requirements for handicapped access, and residents had to travel to Craig or mail in their ballots.

But, to the delight of Ham­ilton residents, that all changed Tuesday when Colorado Secretary of State Bernie Buescher stopped at Hamilton Hall to present a grant for $18,450 to remodel the hall to meet state standards.

“Our purpose is to make it easier for senior citizens and the disabled to access voting,” Buescher said. “Maybe we can make everyone just a little more able to participate in their communities.”

The remodel will update the handicapped accessible ramp and make the front porch of the center safer for wheelchairs.

The disabled and the elderly will be able to safely and efficiently visit their historic polling place, an institution that Hamilton residents fought to save.

Lila Herod, Moffat County chief deputy clerk and recorder, sent out a survey to Hamilton residents to see whether they would be in favor of moving to all mail ballots.

“When we first started looking at renovating it, we asked, ‘Is it worthwhile?’” Herod said. “But we found there are residents who really want this.”

Stephanie Jeffcoat, a 10-year Hamilton resident, was in tears as she shook Buescher’s hand in gratitude.

“I’m a traditionalist,” Jeffcoat said. “I’m about keeping things the same. There are so many families who have been here forever, and having a polling place gave me a chance to get to know the community.”

When she first moved to Hamilton, Ethel Jordan, who was a polling judge at the time, took her on a tour of the old building.

She said she was inspired by the pride Jordan took in the building and her dedication to civic service.

“I saw that she believed in the community center,” she said. “And now it’s very close to my heart.”

Since then, Jeffcoat has worked as a polling judge and been active in civic and political organizations.

As Buescher stood on the building’s aging floor Tuesday, he said he sensed the attachment to the communities and people who make elections work, like Jeffcoat, Forbes and other residents involved with the upkeep of polling places.

“It’s the number of volunteers and judges that make these elections work,” he said.

Once the renovations are complete, the handicapped-access upgrade will make the hall more accessible for the myriad community activities that take place there.

On Tuesdays, the hall hosts Bible study, and Wednesdays the Slipstitch sewing group meets to work on their creations and share stories.

Forbes said each time a member of the Hamilton community dies, a dinner is held in their honor at the hall.

In his short visit to the building, Buescher recognized the hard work of the small communities that serve as the backbone for large elections.

“This is very important,” he said. “Everything doesn’t live and die in Denver.

“I may be the chief election officer, but it’s the county clerks and volunteers that really run the election. This is one of the things that rural Colorado just does, and it’s hard to explain to people in Denver. I love how these communities function.”

Nicole Inglis can be reached at 875-1793, or ninglis@craigdailypress.com.

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