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.
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.
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.
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.
The Colorado County Clerks Association today unleashed a litany of complaints on Secretary of State Scott Gessler, pointing to a “cumbersome list of issues” with his office.In a letter from Executive Director Donetta Davidson, the clerks’ association called for greater cooperation. Gessler, a Republican, was not available for comment, but a spokesman Andrew Cole, defended the office. “The items that they (clerks) are complaining about have all been meant to and have increased voter registration to the highest level ever in Colorado and have made it easier for military voters to vote than ever before,” Cole said.
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.
The recall of Saguache County Clerk Melinda Myers offers some lessons about transparency and the good sense of voters. Myers, who oversaw a messy election in which she prevailed over a challenger, was booted out of office this week with a resounding 68 percent of the vote. We suspect voters were dismayed not only by the controversial outcome in the 2010 election, in which results were reversed days after the polls closed, but by the clerk’s fight to keep ballots secret. We supported a public recount of the ballots in an effort to build public trust in the process. And we think county clerks, who are pushing for legislative action this session to restrict public access to voted ballots after elections, ought to take note of the Saguache recall. Voters may not be as keen on their efforts as they think.