#Coleg Notebook: From Selma to Saguache, Harvie watches out for voters
Harvie Branscomb is a poll-watcher, maybe one of the most dedicated poll watcher and elections process watchdog ever. And it’s not an easy job these days. In Colorado, as around the nation, voting laws and processes are in flux and not in a good way. Many county clerks have come to look upon legally required citizen monitors like Branscomb as hectoring pests or do-gooders who get in the way during busy election cycles. But the watchers are there for the people and the parties, and they’re committed to serving the voters whether or not the voters know or care that they’re there, peeking over clerks’ staff shoulders, watching thousands of ballots being opened and counted, and signatures being verified at a rate of about one every five seconds.
The vast majority of Colorado voters don’t know Branscomb, but nearly everyone at the Capitol knows him well. He has a distinct look — long salt-and-pepper hair and a wide smile — and he knows about election processes as well as anyone in the state and better than most. He was at the legislature Monday to testify in favor of a bill sponsored by Rep. JoAnn Windholz, R-Commerce City, that aims to increase the number of watchers at Colorado’s now-fewer-but-larger polling centers and to bolster their power to intervene when they see what they think might mean trouble.
Branscomb was a teenager when he went with his mom to the riotous 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. This past weekend, he visited Selma, Alabama, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the Voting Rights Act. Branscomb says election integrity is a civil right. It clearly pains him when systems of all kinds fail to fully serve voters, even by failing to motivate them. He noted a sad irony about Selma, a place synonymous with the civil rights fight for the right to vote.
“Selma is one of the poorest places in the country,” he said. “You can see that it is. The houses are just collapsing. It’s beautiful, but it’s sad. And it turns out that many people in Selma are not voting. They may be registered to vote, but they’re not voting. That’s what I was told by the activists who were there.
“There’s a national voting rights museum there but it was closed, even on the day when 50,000 people showed up [to celebrate the Voting Rights Act].”
For Branscomb, the right to vote and the right to to be fully confident that the vote is counted accurately go together. He laments that the second part of the equation, guaranteed accurate vote tallying, gets less attention.
“Selma was about access to the vote, but access to the vote includes that the vote is counted accurately. When we allow ineligible votes to be counted, we’re actually harming the franchise. That’s a message that, for some reason, Republicans appreciate more than Democrats. I really regret that. Democrats should be able to recognize the importance of that story. It’s a civil rights issue.”
The gender pay-gap is a main topic at the Capitol this month. Rep. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, says Colorado is failing its female population. She worked to re-instate Colorado’s Pay Equity commission after Senate Republicans effectively shut it down last month. She was surprised that her efforts were opposed by Republican women lawmakers, who said either that the commission was ineffective or that the problem of pay inequity itself doesn’t exist.
“Men are twice as likely to work 40 hours or more a week than is a woman, regardless of profession,” said Rep. Lori Saine, R-Firestone. “A woman is more likely to work 39 to 35 hours a week, and she chooses to do that. It is not a problem to be fixed. Being a mother is one of the highest callings we have.”
That was upstairs. Downstairs at the Capitol on Monday, working women with children rallied in support of a new bill that would allow employees to take time off work to deal with family emergencies. Women there noted the direct and unfair relationship between women’s role as the main family caregivers in the United States and the stop-start careers they are often forced into and the pay-gap that persists.
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