A Denver judge ruled on October 7 that the Denver Clerk and Recorder can mail ballots to “inactive” voters who missed one election, as she had planned. There will be a later legal proceeding to fully consider the issues. All across the country legislators and political operatives seem to be determined to make it more difficult for American citizens to vote.
Since January, more than a dozen states passed a variety of different laws and executive actions that will make it far more difficult for millions to vote. Seven states, including Texas and South Carolina, will now require voters to present certain government-issued photo IDs to vote. Florida has gone after organizations like the League of Women Voters, threatening them with huge fines if they try to help register citizens to vote unless they comply with a new set of byzantine state rules. Georgia and Arizona are trying to knock down the Voting Rights Act, the most successful piece of civil rights legislation, in a court challenge. And Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler made headlines with the false claim that thousands of non-citizens were voting in Colorado. Now Secretary Gessler is at it again, in a move that — if it stands — could essentially freeze the electorate to those who voted in 2010.
Colorado gives counties the option of conducting certain elections by “mail ballot.” In those elections, there are no traditional polling places; instead, citizens vote by mailing in ballots sent to them by the state. Colorado is holding such an election this November, and the Denver County Clerk and Recorder had planned to take the unremarkable step of sending ballots to all registered voters in the County, as she has for the last five election cycles. Secretary Gessler is suing the Denver County Clerk and Recorder to make her stop, arguing that she may only send ballots to voters who voted in the last election. This move, if it prevails, will keep thousands of eligible and registered Colorado citizens from participating in this November’s elections, for no good reason.
Secretary Gessler’s position is that mail ballots should be only sent to voters who voted in the last election, or to those who contact the County Clerk in writing or show up in person at the election office to specifically tell the county that they would like to receive a mail ballot. This will effectively prevent thousands of Denver residents who would otherwise vote from doing so. In the last Denver mail ballot election, 6,138 of the 55,023 voters who did not participate in the prior election voted when mail ballots were sent to them. Under Gessler’s proposed rule, all of them would have been out of luck. Gessler claims that his rule is necessary to prevent “fraud,” but there is absolutely no factual or logical connection between skipping a single election and voter fraud.
There are a variety of reasons why someone might not vote in a given election, and they should not be penalized for so doing. In fact, under the U.S. Constitution, a person’s decision not to vote is protected political expression. Yet Secretary Gessler would penalize those who choose to stay home by taking away their right to vote unless they go through a burdensome administrative process to regain a right they never surrendered.