Secretary of State Bernie Buescher Monday night told the Colorado Independent he was way ahead of his Republican critics on what needed to happen in Colorado to comply with a new federal law dictating the speed of mailing overseas ballots to members of the military, but lawmakers dragged their feet because of election-year politics.
Buescher, a Democrat up for re-election in November, said that despite insinuations by Republican legislators that he failed to properly ensure Colorado was in compliance with the new Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, he had not only informed both parties of the legislative fixes needed to comply but also had worked to develop legislation in 2009 that would have guaranteed servicemen and women had more time and access to make their vote count in Colorado.
Buescher said both his supporters and critics could have proposed legislation during the last session to comply with the MOVE Act but the political will was missing because of ramifications for campaigns already in progress.
State Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, penned a letter to Buescher signed by Republican leadership and lawmakers that expressed concern that Colorado is out of compliance with last year’s MOVE Act. Like many other states, Colorado – which has a late primary schedule (Aug. 10 this year) – is unable to comply with the provision that service members receive their ballots within 45 days of the election.
Many clerk and recorders do not receive the final ballot until 35 days before the general election. Changing that law mid-election would have changed deadlines for candidates and caused a restructuring of the voting time line.
Tipton’s letter claims Buescher failed to provide information to lawmakers about the MOVE Act’s passage and also failed to work on legislation that would have brought Colorado into compliance with the law.
“The MOVE ACT was enacted several months before the start of the 2010 legislative session. However, no attempt was made by your office to pursue legislation to bring Colorado under compliance with this portion of the MOVE ACT,” the letter reads. “At minimum is should have merited an official memo disclosing that such a significant decision had been made.”
Buescher, speaking at a Democratic fundraiser Monday night, said not only had he provided an official opinion and notice to the minority and majority parties of the bill’s passage and areas of compliance in October of 2009, but he also testified during the Joint State of Affairs Committees in February, stating his concerns about the MOVE Act and what it meant for the upcoming elections. He said at the time he explained it would be impossible to change the primary dates without affecting campaigns of both parties. But he insisted that any lawmaker could have chosen to sponsor legislation to change party primary dates.
Buescher wrote in October 2009 that while he would seek a waiver for the 45-day provision that he supported in federal bill, he was working with clerks and recorders and the legislature to being Colorado under compliance by 2012. He said it’s one of his top priorities.
While finding legislation impossible to pass in the last session, Buescher said he worked with Republican Reps. Marsha Looper and David Balmer, as well as Democratic Sen. Suzanne Williams, to create legislation as Secretary of State that extended the time overseas ballots would be accepted by eight days. He also tried to find a way to begin a voting machine pilot program for military personnel.
Balmer’s name does not appear on Tipton’s letter, while Looper’s name does.