Three months after being sworn in, Secretary of State Wayne Williams has mostly stayed out of the news, and that’s the way he likes it. It’s a marked contrast from Williams’s predecessor, fellow Republican Scott Gessler, an election law attorney who embraced the nickname “honey badger,” a varmint known for the relentlessness of its attack. Where Gessler seemingly courted controversy — and was the target of one complaint after another from Democrats — Williams is taking a more conciliatory approach, working closely with county clerks across the state and stressing his office’s mission providing services to voters, businesses and nonprofit groups. “The role, once you’re in there, isn’t about which party you’re in, it’s how you serve the citizens,” Williams said in an interview with The Colorado Statesman. “There are some things I might do differently than another individual, but I try to work very hard to make sure this government office operates the way we would if we were trying to attract customers.”
Colorado: Gessler voter sting nets 1 conviction despite accusation of widespread fraud | Aurora Sentinel
An Arapahoe County judge last month sentenced an Aurora man to probation for falsely registering to vote — marking the lone conviction in a 2013 voter fraud investigation that identified more than 100 suspects. Vitaliy B. Grabchenko, 49, pleaded guilty to procuring false registration, a misdemeanor, on Feb. 24. Arapahoe County Judge Addison Adams gave Grabchenko a two-year deferred sentence and ordered him to complete 48 hours of community service. He will also be on supervised probation for two years. Grabchenko, a Polish national, was one of four people charged in 2013 as part of a large-scale and controversial voter fraud investigation launched by former Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler. Gessler had identified more than 100 people he said illegally voted, but the four charged in Arapahoe County were the only people in Colorado to face charges.
National: The pros and cons of all-mail elections, as told by two Republican secretaries of state | The Washington Post
Weeks before Election Day, every registered voter in Oregon, Washington and Colorado got a ballot in the mail. They didn’t have to sign up, and no one had to make any special plans to head to out-of-the-way polling places within a specific window: Elections in those three states are conducted entirely by mail. It’s a controversial practice: Democrats who passed legislation creating all-mail elections say they help boost participation, especially for those who have to work on Election Day. Some Republicans say it’s a transparent attempt to tip the scales toward Democratic candidates, and that it’s ripe for fraud and abuse. But the Republican view on all-mail elections isn’t uniform: Kim Wyman (R), Washington’s secretary of state, is a big fan. Scott Gessler (R), Colorado’s secretary of state, isn’t.
It’s a week after Election Day and they’re still counting votes in Colorado, where some are blaming a new state law that replaced polling booths with mandatory mail-in ballots. Top-ticket races have been decided—Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper was re-elected and Republican Cory Gardner unseated Democratic Sen. Mark Udall—but the vote totals in a dozen state House and Senate races remain unknown. Democrats currently have a 37-28 majority in the House and are expected to keep it. But they did lose the Senate, where the Republicans will hold an 18-17 edge after being in the minority for a decade. And although those outcomes are unlikely to change once all the votes are counted, there is frustration with the new process, especially among the grass-roots.
A new election system using all mail-in ballots faces an immediate test in Colorado, with tight Senate, House and gubernatorial races that are being closely watched nationally. Hoping to boost turnout, the Democrat-led legislature here passed a law a year ago requiring Colorado to use mail-in ballots in virtually all elections. Some Republicans, including the secretary of state, have voiced concern about mandating the system statewide, saying that relying so heavily on the postal service could cause problems, especially for rural voters. Democrats have said that the two other states with all-mail elections, Washington and Oregon, have experienced few problems. Colorado voters can still drop off ballots at designated voting centers. They can also fill out a ballot at the centers and even register there on Election Day. But the idea is for most ballots to be mailed in. County clerks have to receive a ballot by 7 p.m. on Tuesday for it to count. A ballot postmarked but not received by that time isn’t valid. “The reason we did this was just to modernize our system and make it easier for people to vote and stay in the process,” said the state House majority leader, Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, a Democrat from Boulder. “You have a lot of people who have a very difficult time just showing up on Election Day and casting their ballot.”
Arapahoe County prosecutors have dropped charges against another person charged in a controversial voter fraud case last fall, leaving just two people facing charges following the lengthy investigation. Tadesse Degefa, 73, of Aurora, was scheduled to go on trial Sept. 3 on a misdemeanor charge of procuring false registration. But prosecutors a week before the trial asked a judge to drop the charge and the judge dismissed the case the day it was supposed to start, said Michelle Yi, a spokeswoman for the Arapahoe County district attorney’s office. In a statement, prosecutors said Degefa asked for a ballot in the mail for the 2012 election even though he wasn’t a citizen and couldn’t legally vote. But, prosecutors said, because the law makes it easy for a third party to ask for a ballot for someone else, they couldn’t prove it was actually Degefa who asked for the ballot. “The existing safeguards are insufficient to prevent this from happening again, and are inadequate for us to prosecute cases with these facts. We honor the law and our elections processes in this State and in this specific case. Here, justice was best served by dismissing the charge,” District Attorney George Brauchler said in a statement. Prosecutors said Degefa illegally voted in 2008 and 2009, but the statute of limitations in those cases had expired.
Half the voter fraud cases prosecuted in Colorado have now been dropped before trial. Eighteenth Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler’s office has dismissed its case against Tadesse G. Degefa, 73, of Aurora, who allegedly registered for a mail-in ballot in 2012, despite the fact that he wasn’t a U.S. Citizen. Brauchler said he couldn’t win the case beyond a reasonable doubt. Dismissal of Degefa’s case comes two and a half months after Brauchler dropped charges, also citing a lack of evidence, in another voter fraud case against canvasser Michael Michaelis. Statistically, the dismissals are significant because the two voter fraud cases were among only four being prosecuted statewide after Secretary of State Scott Gessler claimed there was an epidemic of voters cheating Colorado’s election system.
Colorado: Ballots to be preserved after some were discarded in Larimer County dual elections mix up | 7NEWS
Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler announced Tuesday that he adopted an emergency rule outlining procedures for counting ballots in the Larimer County primary election and the Loveland city election. In a news release, the Secretary of State’s Office said the issue involves the City of Loveland election running in tandem with the county’s primary election. Due to the two elections, affiliated voters in Loveland received two ballots, with one to be returned to the city and one to be returned to the county. Voters must return both ballots by 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Colorado: Lone prosecutor in Gessler anti-vote-fraud campaign drops first case | The Colorado Independent
The charge has been dropped in what’s believed to be the first voter fraud case set for trial since Secretary of State Scott Gessler urged district attorneys statewide to prosecute people who purportedly are cheating Colorado’s election system. Mike Michaelis was scheduled to be tried today for allegedly procuring false information on a voter registration form. Michaelis, 41 and now in construction, registered voters in 2012 on behalf of Work for Progress, a nonprofit that, as its website states, campaigns “for social justice, a fair economy, consumer protection, clean energy, and the environment.” On a voter registration form submitted to Michaelis by Aurora resident Lydie Kouadio, a box was marked saying she is a U.S. citizen. Gessler’s office determined she isn’t. Her name was among 155 voters the Secretary of State deemed to be suspicious. Last June, Gessler sent prosecutors lists of residents in their districts for possible prosecution. In Arapahoe County, District Attorney George Brauchler’s office investigated Kouadio along with the 40 other people in his district Gessler was targeting. Instead of prosecuting Kouadio, Brauchler’s office charged Michaelis based on Kouadio’s claims that Michaelis filled out the registration form for her.
Colorado: Scott Gessler’s emergency election rule shot down by Colorado Supreme Court | Denver Westword
Secretary of State Scott Gessler overstepped his bounds when he issued an emergency rule on election night in November 2013 declaring that votes cast for ineligible candidates are invalid and shouldn’t be counted, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled this week. In a legal challenge brought by eight voters in the Adams 12 Five Star School District, the high court sided with the voters, finding that Gessler’s rule conflicts with a state law that says such votes “are to be counted and recorded.” The story behind the legal fight begins with Amy Speers, a nurse who decided to run for the school board against incumbent Rico Figueroa. Both wanted to represent District 4, which includes parts of Northglenn and Thornton. Speers’s campaign was going well, but a week before the election, Adams 12 officials discovered that she lives outside District 4. The boundaries for school board members had been redrawn in 2012, though Speers didn’t realize it when she signed up to run.
With last year’s recall elections fresh in their minds, leading Democrats in the Colorado Senate laid out a case for changes in state laws governing recall elections. Democrats insisted their aim was to clear up confusion about how recalls work and encourage more voter participation, saying nothing in the bill they’re introducing would make it tougher to attempt to recall a public official in Colorado. “As to the ability to actually recall someone or whether it’s harder or easier, it’s agnostic on that,” said Senate President Morgan Carroll. “It’s neutral. It doesn’t really affect that.”
Editorials: Secretaries of State: A Key Front in the Battle to Protect Voting Rights | Steve Rosenthal/Huffington Post
Across the country we are witnessing a wholesale attack by the right wing on workers, unions, women’s health, the environment, LGBT issues, civil rights, immigration and nearly every other right, protection and civil liberty that Americans hold near and dear. In recent years, Republicans have invested in and won key state legislative victories, which has resulted in lopsided redistricting that will make the work for progressives even more difficult at the state and federal level for years to come. At the cornerstone of the GOP strategy is an assault on voting rights in state after state, the likes of which hasn’t been seen in this country in decades. The right wing understands that their views are out of step with the rapidly increasing progressive majority in America — women, people of color, union members, LGBT and young voters. And the only way they can win is by attempting to prevent this new progressive majority from voting. If we are to turn things around, finding new ways to defend fair and equal access to the ballot must be a top priority for progressives.
Colorado: The Gessler 155: Zero prosecutions of people secretary of state says voted illegally | GJSentinel.com
Since taking over the Secretary of State’s Office in 2011, Scott Gessler has loudly and repeatedly claimed that non-citizens were illegally voting in Colorado elections. The Republican, who has long called for a new law requiring people to show proof of citizenship before voting, made national news when he went before Congress that year making a blockbuster statement that 16,270 non-citizens were registered to vote in Colorado and 5,000 of them actually had cast ballots in the 2010 state elections, when Democrat Michael Bennet narrowly defeated Republican Ken Buck for the U.S. Senate. But since making those claims, Gessler’s office said it has been able to identify only 80 non-citizens statewide who were on the voter rolls over the past nine elections, representing 0.0008 percent of the more than 10 million ballots that have been cast in those general elections, and those ballots don’t include primary races or local elections that were held during that time.
The Libertarian Party of Colorado filed suit in Denver District Court Friday, seeking immediate relief from the inherent conflicts in and unlawful implementation of HB 1303, the Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act. It is also widely known as the Voter Fraud Bill for its “catch me if you can” approach to voting integrity. The suit claims that the new law disenfranchises voters because of the way it changes residency requirements. Since the requirements of the law conflict with local election codes, county clerks have implemented the law in different ways, making things even worse. The defendants in the case are Secretary of State Scott Gessler, county clerks Gilbert Ortiz (Pueblo County), Wayne Williams (El Paso), Jack Arrowsmith (Douglas), and Matt Crane (Arapahoe), representing a defendant class of all Colorado County Clerk & Recorders.
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.
More than half of states are now working in broad alliances to scrub voter rolls of millions of questionable registrations, identifying people registered in multiple states and tens of thousands of dead voters who linger on election lists. Poll managers are looking for more states to get involved and say the efforts are necessary because outdated voter registration systems are unable to keep up with a society where people frequently move from one state to another. While many of the registration problems are innocent, some election leaders fear the current disorder within the system is inviting trouble. “It creates an environment where there could be more problems,” said Scott Gessler, the Republican secretary of state in Colorado. “It’s a precursor to potential fraud, there’s no doubt about it.” Half of all states have now joined a consortium anchored by the state of Kansas, compiling their voter registration lists at the end of every year to assess for duplicates. That program has grown rapidly since beginning in 2005 in an agreement between four Midwestern states. Meanwhile, seven states are coordinating on another project that makes those assessments more frequently with advanced algorithms _ while also checking for deceased voters.
Republican Jon Caldara changed his voter registration Saturday morning from Boulder to El Paso County, saying a flawed election law Democrats passed earlier this year allows him to claim residency in another jurisdiction. But Caldara didn’t mark a ballot in the recall of Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs, a Democrat who faces ouster for pushing through stricter gun laws in the 2013 session. Caldara is president of the Independence Institute, a think tank that fought the gun legislation and would like to see Morse lose his seat. Critics of Caldara’s plan claimed he could be charged with vote fraud, but he said that’s not why he left his ballot blank when he submitted it. “The point was not to be that last vote for Morse — as delicious as that might be — the purpose is to show how easy it is under the new law to move voters from district to district,” he said. Caldara originally marked his ballot “VOID,” which resulted in the elections machine not taking it, so he received another ballot, which had to be specially entered into the voting machine because it was not filled out.
Colorado: District Attorney Bruce Brown: Non-citizen voter fraud suspicions unfounded | Summit Daily
Suspicions of voter fraud in the 5th Judicial District of Colorado are unfounded, according to a news release issued last week by the district attorney’s office. In July, at the request of Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler, 5th Judicial District Attorney Bruce Brown and his staff launched an investigation into three people suspected of being non-citizens who may have illegally cast an electoral ballot as far back as the year 2000. Statewide, the Secretary of State’s Office identified 157 voters as being potential non-citizens. By law, when the secretary of state requests a district attorney to investigate voter fraud, the office has a duty to comply and then prosecute persons who have committed a crime, the release stated. On Aug. 30, the 5th Judicial District Attorney’s Office announced it had concluded its investigation and determined the three voters in question were either United States citizens — legally eligible to participate in the electoral process — or their alleged ineligibility took place outside of the statute of limitations. Local findings are consistent with those statewide, the release stated. Few if any of the 157 suspected non-citizens could have been accused of voter fraud in recent elections.
Editorials: Colorado Secretray of State Gessler repeals controversial email/internet voting rules | Marilyn Marks/Colorado Statesman
On Thursday, Secretary of State Scott Gessler repealed the controversial email/internet voting rules that had been promulgated for the two recall elections for use by absentee voters. The rules were the subject of much controversy and were challenged in the Libertarian Party’s lawsuit concerning a variety of recall election procedures. While the Denver District Court found some of the recall rules in violation of statutes, Judge McGahey seemed willing to allow the use of email ballots, “for this election.” He ordered that absentee ballots must be made available to everyone without requiring an “excuse.” That ruling was anticipated, as Colorado has been a “no-excuse” state for many years. The use of email rather than mail or hand delivery for absentee ballots would proliferate, and the Secretary quickly decided that this was unworkable and repealed the rule. We applaud his quick decision to provide more security to the recall election processes. The Libertarians (and Citizen Center) had fought the introduction of email ballots for any use other than military overseas with no safer option (that is current law), and true medical emergencies. The original SOS rules issued August 16 allowed email transmission and return of all absentee ballots. After considerable public input, revised rules were issued to decrease the return of ballots by email, but still allow the email delivery of ballots to voters to be returned by U.S. Mail.
A Denver District Court judge on Thursday ruled that the office of Secretary of State Scott Gessler went overboard when establishing rules for the first-ever recall elections of state legislators. “I do not think any of the matters that we’re about to deal with were enacted or adopted by the secretary of state’s office in bad faith,” Judge Robert McGahey said. “But I think some of them were wrong.” Two Democrats — Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs and Sen. Angela Giron of Pueblo — face ouster over their support for gun-control legislation during the 2013 session. Their elections are Sept. 10.
Colorado: Ortiz will open voting Friday after Denver judge approves use of voter cards | The Pueblo Chieftain
Pueblo voters can start casting ballots in the contentious Sept. 10 recall election beginning Friday at one location — the Pueblo County election’s office at 720 N. Main St., from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. County Clerk Gilbert “Bo” Ortiz made that announcement today after a Denver district court judge ruled that Ortiz could use voter information cards as a quick way to get voters through the process. All voters will have to sign a signature card affirming their identity. The recall election is for state Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo. “We’ll have that one polling place open starting Friday and also on Monday, Labor Day,” Ortiz said after Denver District Judge Robert McGahey ruled on a number of challenges to the recall rules proposed by Secretary of State Scott Gessler.
Pueblo County Clerk Gilbert “Bo” Ortiz was back in Denver District Court Wednesday challenging a rule that bars him from using county-created identification cards as proof of voter identity in the Sept. 10 recall election for state Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo. Denver District Judge Robert McGahey said he would rule on that question and others related to the recall elections Thursday. For instance, the Libertarian Party is challenging the legality of letting voters use an “emergency” email ballot that does not protect their identity. Ortiz already has sent out the yellow voter cards to Senate District 3 voters and each has the voter’s name, address and a voter identification number. Ortiz intended them for fast “express” voting. Secretary of State Scott Gessler advised Ortiz late Tuesday those cards can’t be used as proof of identity. Gessler said Ortiz must stick to previously accepted documents for voter identification, such as a utility bill, driver’s license or passport.
Colorado: Boulder County DA Stan Garnett clears all 17 suspected illegal voters | Boulder Daily Camera
Last month, Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler gave Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett a list of 17 names, all suspected of voting in the November election despite being non-citizens. Those names were among 155 people identified statewide as possible illegal voters. But an investigation by Garnett’s office found that all 17 people were citizens and were able to easily verify their status, the district attorney said Wednesday. Garnett said the outcome shows Gessler’s emphasis on finding ineligible voters and eliminating them from the voter rolls is a waste of resources and politically motivated. “Local governments and county clerks do a really good job regulating the integrity of elections, and I’ll stand by that record any day of the week,” Garnett said. “We don’t need state officials sending us on wild goose chases for political reasons.”
The Sept. 10 recall elections of two Democratic Colorado lawmakers was supposed to be the first test-run of a new election overhaul, passed this year by Democrats, that would have sent mail ballots to every voter. Now, those elections won’t involve any mail ballots at all. After a long day in court, District Judge Robert McGahey ruled in favor of Colorado Libertarians, who’d sued after being denied a spot on the recall ballot because they failed to meet a deadline, put in place by the new election law, to submit petitions within 10 days of the election date being set. McGahey agreed with the plaintiffs that the state constitution — which has, for 101 years, allowed candidates up to within 15 days of an election to submit their petitions — takes precedence over the new and, ultimately, flawed law. “I know what this decision means,” McGahey told the court as he issued the ruling around 7 p.m. Monday night, alluding to concerns from county clerks of escalating election costs and from Democrats who worried that the loss of mail ballots, which can’t be printed and mailed to voters in time if candidate signatures are validated so late, will lower voter turnout.
Colorado: Cash-strapped Pueblo County asks for election help, gets law lecture instead | Denver Post
Pueblo County reached out to the state to pay for a Sept. 10 recall election this week. But all County Clerk and Recorder Gilbert Ortiz got was a law lecture. Monday Ortiz sent a letter to Secretary of State Scott Gessler asking for the state to pay for an election on recalling state Sen. Angela Giron, a Democrat who riled up opponents earlier this year when she supported gun-control legislation. “Because of the last minute nature of the Recall Election, our Office does not have the money in our budget for these unexpected expenditures, nor does Pueblo County as a whole,” Ortiz stated in the one-paragraph letter. “Pueblo County has experienced recent emergency expenditures that have caused an unexpected financial burden to the County adding to our budgetary challenges and making additional funding from Pueblo County unlikely.” Clerk and Recorder Gilbert Ortiz told Secretary of State Scott Gessler that Pueblo County doesn’t have enough money in its budget to fund a Sept. 10 recall election.
Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler said Tuesday that his office doesn’t have legal authority to reimburse or fund Pueblo County’s recall election in September. Pueblo County Clerk and Recorder Gilbert “Bo” Ortiz sent a letter Monday to the governor’s and secretary of state’s offices, and to state Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, chairman of the Joint Budget Committee, asking for advance payment for the election. State Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, is being recalled by gun-rights supporters who say she overreached in supporting gun legislation. If voters decide to recall her, George Rivera, a former Pueblo police deputy chief and Republican, will take her place in the Legislature. In his response, Gessler said: “This office does not have the legal authority to reimburse your office for the recall election in Senate District 3. Your office should, however, be able to reduce your costs by 25-40 percent based on El Paso County’s experience.”
Colorado: Gessler hires lawyer with ties to former firm to force Hickenlooper on recall elections | Denver Post
Republican Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler has hired an attorney with ties to his old law firm to file a bold court order against Gov. John Hickenlooper in an effort to force the governor to set election dates in the recalls of two Democratic state lawmakers. In a writ of mandamus, filed in Denver District Court over the weekend by attorney Steven Klenda, Gessler asks for an “expedited/emergency hearing” because Hickenlooper, a Democrat, has “refused to perform his constitutional duty to set a date for an election to recall” of Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, and Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo. Colorado’s constitution says that an election date must come 60 days after the secretary of state’s office certifies recall petitions — which came on July 5. But Hickenlooper’s office is holding off until a Wednesday court hearing where a District Court judge will decide on a preliminary injuction that seeks to order Hickenlooper not be required to set an election date until the judicial process in the recall battle has ended.
Colorado: Democrats bear brunt of Colorado Secretary of State’s noncitizen voters hunt | The Gazette
Democrats make up more than half of the 155 suspected noncitizen voters that Secretary of State Scott Gessler is referring to prosecutors, according to figures released by his office Friday. The party affiliation breakdown shows that 88 of the voters are Democrats, 49 are unaffiliated, and 13 are Republicans. Five others are from minor parties, according to numbers provided by Gessler’s office to The Associated Press. No charges have been filed yet against the voters, which Gessler said are being referred to prosecutors.
Democrats make up more than half of the 155 suspected noncitizen voters that Secretary of State Scott Gessler is referring to prosecutors, according to figures released by his office Friday. The party affiliation breakdown shows that 88 of the voters are Democrats, 49 are unaffiliated, and 13 are Republicans. Five others are from minor parties, according to numbers provided by Gessler’s office to The Associated Press. No charges have been filed yet against the voters, which Gessler said Monday are being referred to prosecutors. It’s the latest chapter in a heated debate that Gessler, a Republican, has helped drive since taking office in 2011, repeatedly saying noncitizens on voter rolls are vulnerability in the system. He said this week that officials “can no longer turn a blind eye” to it.
The latest round of letters questioning the citizenship of some Colorado registered voters has 63 out of 298 people affirming their right to vote, and most recipients are ignoring the May letters altogether. The letters are part of an ongoing effort by Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler to address what he says is a risk for voter fraud. Gessler’s office provided the latest numbers to The Associated Press this week. Another 15 people who received letters last month said they weren’t U.S. citizens and asked to be removed from voter rolls.