Report: Colorado voting system could be much improved by November

A report authored by election watchdog organizations Common Cause and Demos points to a series of unaddressed problems likely to suppress the vote in Colorado this November. The issues pointed out in the report are alarming in part for the fact that they appear to be easy to address. The fixes suggested include slashing the state’s long registration lead-time requirement, including more Spanish-language voting material and establishing rapid-response protocols to address disinformation.

“Spanish-language outreach and education is a major concern,” Jenny Flanagan of Colorado Common Cause told the Colorado Independent. “Ten counties are now required to include Spanish language material but that is based on ten-year-old census numbers. A handful of counties at least will switch [to require Spanish materials] with the new census figures. Weld and Adams Counties for instance could follow Eagle County in providing some Spanish material this year even though it’s not yet required.”

Flanagan said she realizes there are costs involved and that in a recession economy it’s tough to make the case for dedicating additional resources to getting out the vote but, she said, working to draw more eligible voters to participate in their government is a most worthy cause. Toward that end and with an eye to making the most of strained resources, Flanagan said Common Cause is already working to encourage county clerks to team with state and local organizations to draw out voters– organizations like Mi Familia Vota, which is already doing the same kind of work.

Flanagan said individual fraud– where people pretend they are someone else in order to cast repeat ballots, for example– is not a problem in the state despite talk radio reports warning of such abuse.

Flanagan said the real problem here as elsewhere is coordinated campaigns launched by partisans up and down the political spectrum. She referenced reports she received on Election Day 2008 of a disinformation campaign that featured text messages sent out erroneously telling voters that if they missed voting on Election Day they could simply vote the following day. Other groups sent out volunteers to tell voters approaching polls that only English speakers could cast ballots.

Flanagan said in such cases, clear rapid responses should come from trusted sources, like the Governor or the Secretary of State. “Voting is on this day alone.” “All are eligible to vote.”

Despite the growing mountain of evidence on the unreliability of electronic voting systems, two large counties in Colorado– Jefferson and Arapahoe, still require no paper record of votes cast. Colorado does, however, have a strong post-election results audit, according to Flanagan.

“Because Colorado is the site of several close federal and state races, voter participation rates could have a game-changing impact on election results,” argues the release accompanying the report.

In the last few elections Colorado has gone from a predominantly Republican state to a predominantly Democratic state. Many observers expect the 2010 elections to be a watershed. If Republicans can’t win back seats this year, goes one line of thinking, they may not for many years.

Colorado election protection and information sites provide key information in English and Spanish. Just Vote Colorado is one comprehensive resource.

The Common Cause Demos report, “Voting in 2010: Ten Swing States” (pdf), details a lot of the problems found in Colorado and around the nation. From the Common Cause-Demos release on Colorado:

A number of notable obstacles to full voter participation in Colorado were found.

· Citizens must register a full 29 days before the election, long before many voters become aware that an election is upcoming.

· Election officials conduct no formal outreach for immigrant or language minority voters, though the state has more than 150,000 immigrant citizens and at least 404,000 eligible Latino voters. The state’s Elections homepage does not offer Spanish translation and only precincts composed of three percent or more non-English speaking eligible voters are required to recruit bilingual staff members.

· Colorado lacks any law directly banning dissemination of deceptive information, leaving the state open to the use of phony flyers as well as online dissemination of misinformation meant to disenfranchise voters.

· Voting rights are restored automatically to felons released from parole but that information is not effectively conveyed to the public. In fact, the state’s website says “no one will tell you when you are eligible to vote.”

· Voting may be more difficult for Coloradans in the military and overseas than it is for their counterparts from other states. Colorado applied for but was denied a waiver of the recently passed federal requirement that absentee ballots be sent out 45 days in advance to overseas voters who have requested them prior to that time; the waiver was denied.

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