In a letter to Thomas Perez, Assistant Attorney General in the Civil rights Division of the Department of Justice, Congressmen Bob Brady and Charles A. Gonzalez, the Ranking Members of the Committee on House Administration and its Subcommittee on Elections, respectively, have requested an investigation into actions taken by Colorado Secretary of State, Scott Gessler. Last week, Sec. Gessler petitioned the Denver District Court for an injunction to prevent the Denver Clerk and Recorder’s office from mailing ballots to eligible voters ahead of the November 01, 2011, election simply because they hadn’t voted in the last general election.
“No right is mentioned more times in the Constitution than the right to vote,” said Rep. Gonzalez. “It is the responsibility of every public official to ensure that eligible citizens are not denied that right. Secretary Gessler, instead, has taken steps that could prevent Coloradans’ civic participation. The Voting Section of the Department of Justice exists to protect this foundation of our democracy.”
Denver City and County Clerk and Record Debra Johnson has called this “a fundamental issue of fairness and of keeping voting accessible to as many eligible voters as possible” and the maps her office released suggest that districts with large minority populations would be particularly hard hit by Gessler’s rule. The congressmen were also concerned that eligible and registered voters who had missed the last election because of a disability or because they were deployed abroad at the time might miss their chance to vote this year.
“Election officials should always favor enfranchisement over exclusion,” said Rep. Brady. “Secretary Gessler’s actions fail to meet that basic principle and may deny thousands of American’s access to the ballot. The Department of Justice should move swiftly to examine this decision to make sure every Coloradan has the right to vote, especially those fighting for our country abroad.”
This injunction could have a disparate impact on disabled-Americans who were unable to make it to the polls in 2010 as a direct result of their disability, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The injunction could also disenfranchise Americans who were overseas in 2010, including those whose active duty deployments to Iraq or Afghanistan made voting particularly difficult. Democrats on the Elections Subcommittee have worked hard to broaden voter access. They passed the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act in 2009 to make it easier for Americans who are abroad on Election Day to participate in our democracy, but significant challenges remain.