Coloradoans like voting. Colorado had the third highest voter turnout in the country during last year’s election, with seventy-one percent of its voting-eligible population casting ballots. Republicans and Democrats alike praised the smooth, efficient election process. Nonetheless, in the wake of the election the Colorado legislature passed a bill designed to further streamline and modernize Colorado’s elections. In broad strokes, the new law allows voters to register in person until election day, all ballots are delivered to voters through the mail, and voters who skip a general election will no longer face additional obstacles to voting – such voters were previously termed “Inactive Failed to Vote” (IFTV), but that designation is now defunct. IFTV voters in previous years had to specially request that they receive their mail ballot or they would not receive one; the courts effectively suspended this provision last year when a judge threw out the Colorado Secretary of State’s suit filed against Pueblo County Clerks to enjoin them from sending unsolicited ballots to IFTV voters.
Not everyone is on board with the new law, however, and Secretary of State Scott Gessler argues in an op-ed that the legislature did not think through all of the consequences of key provisions. Gessler states that the law suffers from accelerated implementation, an overdependence on mail ballots, and vulnerability to voter fraud. He further rests the blame on the Democratic Party, which currently controls the Governorship and Colorado State Senate. As evidence of rushed implementation, Gessler points to the chaos of Colorado’s recent recall elections in which two Democratic State Senators were actually unseated. The content of the law may not be entirely to blame, however. This was Colorado’s first recall election in history, which likely adds a new layer of confusion to the difficulties with implementing a brand new election procedure. Gessler may be correct that rushing the implementation did not help, but a shaky first implementation in a surprise election does not necessarily entail deep-seated problems with the law itself.
Gessler’s second contention – that the new law requires mail ballots, which came in late in the recall election and depend on the shrinking postal service – is more elusive. While the law states that all elections will be conducted with mail ballots, it also requires that districts have a minimum number of voter service and polling centers. These centers serve as a drop off location for ballots, voter registration centers, provisional voting centers, and even provide replacement ballots to registered voters. In fact, this recall election involved none of the mandatory mail ballots at all due to a conflict between the Colorado Constitution and the new law as to how many days before the election a candidate may be added to the ballot – the constitution allows candidates to jump on to the ballot fifteen days before the election, while the law only provided for ten days. This expensive, confusing mail ballot kerfuffle certainly strengthens Gessler’s prior point that the Colorado government rushed implementation of the new law, but does not suggest any material problem with the law itself.