Pueblo County Clerk Gilbert “Bo” Ortiz will “reluctantly” comply with Secretary of State Scott Gessler’s order not to mail ballots to 64 inactive military voters. Ortiz announced his decision Friday afternoon, but said the dispute with Gessler over whether inactive voters should receive mail ballots this year isn’t over.
“Pueblo County is currently weighing our legal options, including taking the issue to court,” Ortiz said in a statement. “The secretary of state effectively has denied 64 active military personnel the opportunity to vote.”
The dispute well could end Oct. 7 when a Denver district court hears the case. Gessler is suing Denver County Clerk Debra Johnson over her decision to send mail ballots to active and inactive voters this year. Active voters are those who took part in the 2010 election or freshened their registration since then. Inactive voters didn’t take part in the 2010 election or respond to postcards or queries to renew their registration.
Gessler advised Colorado’s 64 county clerks this year not to send ballots to inactive voters. Johnson and Ortiz have taken a different view of the law, arguing that both categories of voters should receive mail ballots this year. The military side of the confrontation came up this week when Ortiz told Gessler on Thursday that he was preparing to send 64 ballots to inactive military voters on Friday unless he received an order telling him not to. Gessler sent word not to mail them about 6 p.m. Thursday.
“After reviewing the matter with the attorney general’s office, my office’s position remains the same,” Gessler wrote, meaning no ballots to any inactive voters, military or otherwise.
Ortiz shot back Friday, saying, “Military men and women should be given every opportunity to participate in the democracy they’re defending. They may be listed as ‘inactive’ voters in our system, but when they’re on active duty, how can we deny them a ballot?”
At dispute is a state law where a previous requirement to send ballots to inactive voters has “sunset” or expired. Gessler insists that means only active voters can receive mail ballots this year without applying for them.
Ortiz is holding about 17,000 ballots that are addressed to inactive voters, waiting for a decision by the Denver court. The 64 military ballots were headed for the mailbox this week because state law requires that military voters get their ballots 45 days prior to the election. The Denver clerk’s office already has sent its inactive ballots. Gessler isn’t seeking to punish the office, but wants a court ruling on his order to limit the mail ballots to active voters only.
El Paso County Clerk Wayne Williams said his office — which handles hundreds of absentee military ballots each election — is not sending ballots to some 800 inactive military voters registered in that county. Williams said his office sent two postcards, plus emails where addresses were provided, trying to revive those voters’ interest in applying for a mail ballot. They didn’t respond and won’t get ballots, Williams said.
“The last time we sent out inactive ballots, we only got back about 1 in 1,000,” Williams said. “So it’s not very cost effective.”