Over the course of a five-hour rulemaking hearing Monday, Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler probably got the message that a lot of people are unhappy with proposed rules that would stop county clerks from mailing ballots to inactive voters in some elections, change the way canvass boards are selected and give county clerks more power to determine how much access election watchers have. About 40 people signed up to testify at this week’s hearing; nearly all of them spoke in opposition to one or more of Gessler’s proposed rule changes, which covered three general areas. “It was pretty much all opposition,” commented Luis Toro, executive director of Colorado Ethics Watch, who did not speak. “I don’t think it (the opposition) will change anything, though,” he said. The rules, (pdf) either as presented by Gessler or as revised by his office as a result of the hearing and written testimony, could go into effect as early as Monday, at Gessler’s discretion.
In addition to objections raised about the proposed rules, many speakers also questioned the timing–saying that no election rules should be changed this close to an election–and challenged Gessler’s authority to implement rules that many said went beyond rulemaking and actually subvert the legislative process. Other than timing and authority, among the changes that drew the most opposition were rule 8.6, which would give county clerks considerable discretion over where election watchers are allowed at any given time; a rule that may allow county clerks, in some cases, to appoint canvass board members; and a rule that would prohibit county clerks from automatically mailing ballots to inactive voters in some elections.
Election watchers and canvass board members are currently appointed by major parties and by candidates to observe election processes. Canvass boards in each county are charged with certifying elections among other duties. While the major parties select their own canvass board members, rules proposed by Gessler would give county clerks the right to appoint canvass board members from minor parties or issue committees. Speakers argued that the clerks should never be allowed to make appointments to the board that essentially oversees their own work.