This campaign season, Colorado’s new mail-ballot voter law has drawn the national sideshow attention of cable news and opinion, AM radio and even a sting by conservative provocateur James O’Keefe — all focused on the notion that Tuesday’s outcome could be tainted. But perception hasn’t been reality, according to election officials on both sides of the deep political divide who report only a routine percentage of challenged signatures, undeliverable ballots and reports of alleged shenanigans. Mesa County Clerk Sheila Reiner said the lack of actual trouble is largely because voting by mail is nothing new. It’s been an option for Colorado voters since 1992. And in the 2012 general election, 73 percent of Coloradans cast mail ballots. “What’s different is we have a party that’s made allegations of fraud part of its platform,” Reiner, a Republican who is president of the Colorado County Clerks Association, said of some members of her party.
Rep. Dickey Lee Hullinghorst (D-Colo.) thought an all-mail election sounded like a bad idea when she heard Oregon was mailing out ballots to every voter during the2000 election. “It was a traditional thing for me—I liked to go to my polling place on Election Day,” she said. A little more than a decade later, Hullinghorst was one of four legislators who sponsored HB 1303, a 2013 bill that made Colorado the third state to have all-mail elections or vote-by-mail elections. Hullinghorst, majority leader in the Colorado House, said the success of vote-by-mail elections in Oregon and Washington convinced her that Colorado was ready to make the change in 2013. And it wasn’t much of a leap for a state that previously permitted jurisdictions to hold all-mail elections, excluding general elections. More than 74 percent of voters in Colorado chose to cast a mail ballot in the 2012 general election, according to the Colorado County Clerks Association. While Oregon, Washington and Colorado are the only states that automatically mail to every registered voter a ballot and do not run traditional in-person voting precincts, voters in many other states have experienced some form of a vote-by-mail election.
Hoping to make voting accessible without opening the door to fraud, Colorado is turning to technology. In 2013, the state Legislature created Colorado’s own “electronic pollbook,” a new real-time voter-tracking system that allows the state to combine an all-mail election with traditional in-person voting, maximizing the opportunities for residents to cast ballots. Colorado already had a robust vote-by-mail system—about three-quarters of the state’s voters mailed their ballots in 2012—but now, every registered voter in the state, including previously “inactive” voters, will receive a mail ballot in upcoming elections. Yet unlike in Washington state or Oregon, which run all-mail elections, Coloradans can still vote in person if they choose. Instead of being tethered to a local precinct, voters can cast ballots or return their mail ballots at any “voting center” in their county, where poll workers can check them in using the real-time connection in the new e-pollbook to ensure they haven’t already voted using a mail ballot. The process is spread over a couple of weeks of early voting and Election Day itself to reduce crowding and wait times at polling places.
Editorials: Colorado Passed Broad Election Reform, Other States Should Follow | Myrna Pérez/Huffington Post
State legislatures across the country are hard at work expanding the right to vote. Already, more than 200 bills to improve voting access have been introduced in 45 states in 2013. Friday in Denver, Gov. John Hickenlooper made Colorado the latest to expand rights, joining Maryland, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Virginia, and West Virginia. More legislation is awaiting signature in Florida. To be sure, some states continue to push needless restrictions on the ability of citizens to participate in elections, and voters and their advocates must remain vigilant against any such efforts. Still, the trend is unmistakable: After years of backsliding, states are embracing free, fair, and accessible elections. In many cases, the bills have enjoyed broad bipartisan support, another encouraging trend. Legislators are expanding access to the ballot in a variety of ways, from reducing the burden of voter identification requirements, to modernizing voter registration, to expanding early voting.
County Clerk Wayne Williams, a staunch Republican, can’t hide his frustration. State Rep. Pete Lee, an equally determined Democrat, can’t hide his elation. Many of the state’s other county clerks, who are Republicans, actually feel the same as Lee. Everyone who cares about how Colorado’s elections are run seems to have an extreme opinion about House Bill 1303, which sailed through the Colorado General Assembly in its final days and was signed into law last Friday. Mail ballots will now go out to all registered voters — in other words, there’ll be no more “inactive” voters — and residents will be allowed to register and vote on election day, as in nine other states (including Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, which generally lean conservative).
Colorado would become the nation’s third all-mail ballot state in the country — after Oregon and Washington — under a bill sent by the Legislature to Gov. John Hickenlooper on Friday. The measure has raised a partisan ruckus in Colorado — not so much for the mail voting as for another provision in the bill that would allow prospective voters to register as late as election day. The bill passed on party-line votes in both houses, with the Republicans furiously claiming that election-day registration opened the state to widespread voter fraud. (Colorado currently cuts off registration 29 days before the election, compared to 20 days in Oregon).
A big change to Colorado’s election system got another lopsided victory before a state Senate committee Wednesday night. The so-called Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act would provide mail ballots to every Colorado voter and allow registration all the way to Election Day. The State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee passed the bill on a 3-2 vote, three Democrats for, two Republicans against, after the bill passed the House without a single GOP vote last week. After a stop before the Senate Appropriations Committee, it goes to the full Senate. If it passes there — before 20 Democrats and 15 Republicans — by the end of the legislative session on May 8, it goes to Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper for a signature to become law.
Voting Blogs: After Long Lines of 2012, States Push to Expand Voting Access | Brennan Center for Justice
After long lines marred the 2012 election, Republicans and Democrats are supporting bills in the states to increase registration opportunities, expand early voting, and modernize election systems, a new Brennan Center analysis found. Nearly 200 bills to expand voting access were introduced in 45 states in 2013 (click map for larger view). Of those, 41 bills in 21 states are currently active, meaning there has been some form of activity, such as a hearing or vote. Three states, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Virginia, have already passed expansive laws. Many of these new bills are drawing bipartisan support. The GOP introduced an online registration bill in Pennsylvania and passed it in Virginia. New Mexico’s new law streamlining registration at state DMVs received broad bipartisan support and was signed by a Republican governor. And in Colorado, Democrats in the legislature worked with the mostly-Republican Colorado County Clerks Association to draft a modernization bill, which passed the House Friday.
Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Sheila Reiner, a Republican, was called out for the Colorado County Clerks Association’s support of an elections bill that has divided the Colorado General Assembly the past week. So far, the bill has passed two House committees and a floor vote entirely along party lins — Democrats for, Republicans against. The mailer suggests she’s in cahoots with President Obama and state Democrats. “I never thought that my name would be associated with the president,” Reiner told Charles.
The legislation that could either modernize, economize and simplify the state’s election system — or open it up to voter fraud, depending on who you believe — is expected to go to the floor of the state House of Representatives for a vote Thursday. The so-called Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act passed out of its second House committee this week early Wednesday morning. The Appropriations Committee gave it an 8-4 approval on a party-line vote. The House’s State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee gave it a 7-4 party line vote Monday night. Though backers have called it a bipartisan bill, so far it’s yet to pick up a single Republican vote or any endorsement from GOP lawmakers or organizations.
Heading into the final month of a highly partisan and controversial legislative session in which they’ve already passed civil unions, in-state tuition and gun control legislation, Democrats aren’t letting up. On Wednesday, Democratic lawmakers will introduce another bill guaranteed to spark yet another political battle royale: an omnibus elections bill that will allow residents to register to vote as late as Election Day and direct county clerks to mail ballots to every voter. “This is a partisan power play,” said Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler, a Republican, who says the bill’s backers didn’t include his office or any GOP lawmakers in drafting the legislation. “It is not a bipartisan effort to have all voices at the table.” Last November, nearly three of every four Colorado voters cast their ballots by mail.
Coloradans would vote primarily by mail, and they could register to vote on Election Day, under a bill Democrats are proposing at the state Capitol. Neighborhood polling places at schools and churches would be a thing of the past, and in-person voting would happen at a few centralized voting centers in each county, if the bill passes. Even before it has been introduced, the bill has touched off a partisan fight. But the Colorado County Clerks Association supports the bill. Many clerks, like Montezuma County’s Carol Tullis, are Republicans and still support the bill. “It sounds good on the surface,” Tullis said.
Democrats are expected to introduce a sweeping elections bill Wednesday that would allow residents to register to vote through Election Day, and send mail ballots to every voter, according to a draft of the bill obtained by The Denver Post. The measure is expected to launch another partisan battle under the gold dome, as Republican leaders, including Secretary of State Scott Gessler, say the legislation would lead to voter fraud. The bill, prompted by the state’s county clerks, will put real-time technology to work on elections, save voters time and ultimately save taxpayers money, said Rep. Dan Pabon of Denver, the House assistant majority leader. “We’re not voting the way we did in the 19th century,” he said. “We’re not still voting the way we did in much of the 20th century. It’s time to bring our elections into the 21st century.” Those who still want to vote in person will be able to go to an election service center open at least 15 days before the election, The Colorado County Clerks Association, which asked for many of the provisions in a letter to lawmakers last November, said 74 percent of the state’s residents already voted by mail.
Coloradans would vote primarily by mail, and they could register to vote on Election Day under a bill Democrats are proposing at the state Capitol. Neighborhood polling places at schools and churches would be a thing of the past, and in-person voting would happen at a few centralized voting centers in each county, if the bill passes. Even before it has been introduced, the bill has touched off a partisan fight. But La Plata County Clerk Tiffany Lee Parker, a Republican, supports the bill and says it’s not a partisan issue. “To me, this is really bipartisan. This makes sense. This is not Republican versus Democrat,” Parker said.
Colorado’s county clerks have gotten off to an early start lobbying the legislature for election reforms after the previous session in which several proposals were killed during a divisive election year. The County Clerks Association met with lawmakers on Monday for an informational session to outline several proposals ranging from an all-mail ballot delivery system to shortening voter registration deadlines and eliminating contention surrounding mailing ballots to inactive voters. “Our goal today is to start a conversation on providing convenient, transparent and legal elections,” Donetta Davidson, former secretary of state and current executive director of the Colorado County Clerks Association, told the small group of lawmakers. Several of the legislators represented members of the House and Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs committees, which will likely be the first committees to see the bills. “Obviously accessibility and integrity is one of the issues; balancing those and making sure we meet those,” continued Davidson.
Colorado: Election officials across Colorado push for voting overhauls by lawmakers | The Coloradoan
In the run-up to a presidential election, storms of emotions from all sides of the aisle color the months of October and November like the burnt-orange leaves that carpet a lawn. Come December, the electorate’s attention turns to gingerbread, candy canes, sleigh rides and stocking stuffers. But the potholes that mar the road to democracy are fresh in the minds of election officials. So Colorado’s county clerks have developed a list — not for Santa, but for state lawmakers — to remedy a handful of persistent thorny issues well in advance of the next general election almost two years from now.
Gov. John Hickenlooper signed legislation today that sets rules for public review of voted ballots — a bill supporters say is necessary to prevent chaos in the November election, but critics call a blow to open government. Election integrity activists, members of the Colorado Lawyers Committee Election Task Force and groups such as Common Cause and Colorado Ethics Watch had flooded the governor’s office with letters asking him to veto House Bill 1036. Several of those opponents plan to file a lawsuit to stop the law from taking effect, activist Marilyn Marks said today. “Based on our familiarity with this bill and its flawed process, we believe that those legal challenges will be successful in striking down this law,” Marks said. “We hope that the litigation will have immediate impact prior to the upcoming elections where full transparency is unquestionably required.” Hickenlooper’s office is expected to issue a statement later today explaining why he signed the bill.
A growing coalition is asking Gov. John Hickenlooper to veto a bill that creates rules for public inspection of voted ballots, saying it is “an unprecedented step” to block the public’s right to ensure fair elections that was “ramrodded” through the legislature in its final days. Among those who have contacted Hickenlooper or plan to do so are members of the Colorado Lawyers Committee Election Task Force, the chairman of the Ute Mountain Ute tribe, Colorado Common Cause, Colorado Ethics Watch and two election-integrity groups. “The reality of this legislation is that at the most critical time, when the public has an interest in clerks’ management of elections, it creates an unprecedented exemption from (the Colorado Open Records Act),” said John Zakhem, a prominent elections attorney.
With Colorado considered a key battleground state in November, the last thing anyone wants is a Florida-style fiasco, supporters of an elections recount bill testified today. Senate Bill 155 sets procedures for public inspection of voted ballots, while attempting to ensure that how Coloradans voted remains confidential. Under the proposal, anyone filing an open-records request to inspect ballots would not be able to do so 45 days prior to an election or 17 days after so that clerks can concentrate on their election duties. Outside that time period, the ballots would be available for inspection. “It is not a stretch to imagine that Colorado could find itself with a very close result in the upcoming election,” said Donetta Davidson, executive director of the Colorado County Clerks Association. “Should that happen, this bill will give Coloradans a road map to inspect the election results without compromising voter privacy. And it is our hope this bill will make us much less likely to see legal battles and inconsistent court rulings.”
A group of Colorado voters filed a federal lawsuit against Secretary of State Scott Gessler and six county clerks today, saying their election practices are unconstitutional because they allow some ballots to be traced to the person who cast them. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Denver, argues that voters in those counties are being deprived of their right to a secret vote, and asks a federal judge to order the practices stopped. “The right to a secret ballot is a revered principle of American democracy,” said Marilyn Marks, a voting integrity activist who founded Citizen Center, the group that filed the lawsuit. “No one, most particularly government officials, should have access to information that can connect ballots with voters,” Marks said.
Last fall, Larimer County Clerk and Recorder Scott Doyle invited state lawmakers and a handful of other people to an eye-opening presentation. Flipping through a slide show, Doyle showed them how, because of the level of reporting required for Colorado elections, he could use publicly available logs and reports to locate which ballots that some of the lawmakers — and one legislator’s wife — cast in the 2010 election. Doyle didn’t go so far as to remove the ballots from their sealed boxes to see how each person voted, but his point was clear: If someone had all the pieces at their fingertips, that person could do so, at least for some voters in many counties.