Pueblo County Clerk Gilbert Ortiz gave Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler until this morning to specifically and formally address another of the charged ramifications of his new interpretation of state election law. Gessler got in under the wire. Thursday evening, he sent Ortiz a letter ordering him not to send ballots to any of the county’s “inactive voters”– legally registered voters who failed to cast ballots in the previous even-year general election– including roughly 70 soldiers on the Pueblo County inactive voter rolls serving out of state. In Pueblo as elsewhere in the state, inactive voters are now meant to visit the clerk’s office or a polling place to retrieve ballots. With the election a month away, Gessler’s directive seems likely to effectively disenfranchise the soldiers.
On Wednesday, Ortiz told the Colorado Independent he was pained by the idea of not sending out the ballots. “This is not a comfortable place to be,” he said, adding that not sending the ballots went against all of his priorities as clerk. He said he felt the clock ticking for the inactive-voter soldiers.
Last night, Ortiz told the Pueblo Chieftain that he remained undecided on whether or not to follow Gessler’s order. He said he planned to consult with County Attorney Dan Kogovsek on the matter.
Contacted this morning, Ortiz’s office said he would comment on the Gessler order after a roughly hour-long scheduled conference call, presumably with Kogovsek, on the course of action they plan to chart for Pueblo County.
Gessler last week filed a lawsuit against Denver County over its plan to mail ballots to all registered voters, active and inactive. Denver has mailed ballots to all registered voters for the last five years and has already sent its ballots out this year. A district court is scheduled on October 7th to hear arguments in the case.
In announcing his new interpretation of state election law, Gessler explained that he is seeking to make the rules uniform across counties on whether or not clerks can mail ballots to inactive voters and he said he was concerned to guard against possible registration fraud.
In making his case, Gessler has cited a Colorado statute that directs county clerks to “mail [ballots] to each active registered elector.” That language comes from legislation passed in 2008 that explicitly required Colorado counties to mail ballots to inactive as well as to active voters but that only passed as a temporary measure amid complaints that it established an unfunded mandate. In its absence, Gessler argues, counties cannot send ballots to inactive voters.
Many observers, including two members of Congress who champion voter-rights, see Gessler’s interpretation as a stretch. They see the reading as part of a larger Republican drive in states across the nation built on overblown threats of voter fraud but designed to suppress voter participation in advance of next year’s presidential election.