Colorado voter registration bill is a solution in search of a problem, critics say

Colorado Senator Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, told the Colorado Independent Tuesday that a bill requiring proof of citizenship when registering to vote would protect the integrity of one of Colorado’s most sacred systems.

Voting advocacy groups and Denver County’s clerk and recorder disagreed, saying they are opposed to the legislation on grounds that it, along with a voter photo-identification bill introduced in the House, would pose an unneeded barrier to the constitutional right for many citizens. They said that with no documented cases of voter fraud in Colorado, the bills are solutions in search of a problem.

SB-018 (pdf), if passed, would require anyone registering to vote in Colorado to provide either a birth certificate, U.S. passport, United States naturalization document, the number of the applicant’s certificate of naturalization or any document approved by U.S. federal immigration law.

A second bill, HB-1003 (PDF), amends the definition of identification that needs to be presented when voting. It states that citizens must show state-approved photo identification at the polls. Voters would be allowed to show a valid Colorado Identification card, driver’s license, state school ID, U.S. passports, or government employee identification.

“The positive side is my bill [citizenship certification] will ensure that every vote is a legitimate vote, and they are not being diluted by people who shouldn’t be voting in the election process.” Harvey said. “Voter integrity is the foundation of democracy, and we want to ensure that the people who are voting should be voting. And those people who do get to vote, get their vote weighted appropriately.”

Harvey said that he had spoke to Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler about his bill and said that Gessler was supportive of it. However, Gessler was not involved in its development.

Colorado Immigrants Rights Coalition spokesperson Alan Kaplan said in response to the bills that nationally there was a better chance of getting hit by lightning than voter fraud taking place. He went on to note that there are no cases of voter fraud ever recorded in Colorado.

“The Colorado county clerks have repeatedly come out and said that there are no documented cases of voter fraud in Colorado,” Kaplan said. “This seems like cheap political theatrics rather than actual governance.”

Denver elections spokesman Alton Dillard said Denver’s County Clerk and Recorder Stephanie O’Malley is opposed to both bills. He said her overall philosophy is one opposing policies that might deter citizens from voting.

“One of the reasons [for O’Malley’s opposition to the bills] is there is an overall barrier to people being able to vote in the voting franchise. And remember that anyone who registers to vote attests by their signature that they meet the criteria, including be the proper age, being a citizen etc. When you register to vote all of that is right there and you put your signature on it.”

However, Sen. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, a former Douglas County clerk and recorder, said both bills “seem logical” to her.

Jenny Flanagan, executive director for Colorado Common Cause, said vulnerable groups including the elderly, poor, minority and homeless populations often do not have the identification required by the legislation. Eighteen percent of Americans over 65 do not have a photo ID, Flanagan said. “A quarter of African American voters in our country and 15 percent of low-income voters do not have photo ID.”

Flanagan said Colorado Common Cause fears that if passed, some demographic groups would become underrepresented in the vote.

She said that there is a considerable cost to the state to enact the citizenship requirement while there is no demonstrated issue. “I think a lot of times you will hear on the other side that we are stopping fraud and non-eligible voters from participating. There just is no evidence that that is true. It will result in a huge cost for the state.”

Sen. Betty Boyd, D-Denver , told the Colorado Independent last month that she has not seen any data reflecting a need for further regulations on voter identification.

Harvey said that if his bill “reduces the number of people who are voting now who shouldn’t be voting than that is a good thing.”

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