Gessler/Holbert bill would target ineligible voters: Voter advocates cry foul

A bill designed by Secretary of State Scott Gessler and sponsored by Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, to ensure the integrity of the Colorado voting system is being called a means to reduce voter participation by voters’ rights advocates. Gessler said his bill fixes what he sees as a serious problem of ineligible voters on the voter rolls.

The bill would give the secretary of state the authority to check names on voter registration lists against state and federal records that provide information on immigration status. In those cases where the secretary of state’s office determines that there is enough information to believe a person is not eligible to vote, the person would be given 90 days to provide evidence they are eligible. Individuals could prove their citizenship by showing photocopies of a passport, birth certificate, naturalization papers or through other methods. For those who could not afford a birth certificate the secretary of state’s office would provide the necessary funds.

 “This should have been done four years ago during the special session,” Holbert told the committee.

However, Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver, said she would like to see evidence that non-citizens have participated in voter fraud and said she did not see a reason to tackle a problem that had not been proven to exist.

Jenny Flanagan, executive director for Colorado Common Cause, told the Colorado Independent the bill went one step too far.

“This is just another attempt to limit people’s participation in the vote,” Flanagan said. “It is in the guise of an integrity measure, but it is really anything but.”

She said the bill likely violated constitutional voting rights.

Gessler said the bill was sure to stand up to both constitutional and statutory challenges.  

Telling the committee that he was nearly certain 106 individuals who should not be voting were currently on the rolls, Gessler said there could be many more. Gessler said that after attaining drivers license data, his office was able to determine the type of identification used to acquire either an ID or driver’s license. He said that 11,805 individuals used identification to get a drivers license that would not have allowed them to legally vote at the time–even though those people are currently on the voting rolls.

Rob DuRay, field director for New Era Colorado, questioned the secretary of state’s investigative methods.

“I think there are some holes in the [secretary of state’s] argument. Some of the databases are updated and maintained at different times and ways, so there is a strong chance that in the last five years those people could have become citizens.”

While admitting that many of those who registered at the time with records identifying them as foreign nationals could have received their citizenship since that point, Gessler said that it was likely at least some had not. He went on to say that 106 were found to have registered for a license after signing up to vote or did so on the same day.

Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, said she felt the bill had the potential to reverse the burden of proof onto the accused and concurred  that other databases did not use the same criteria to judge citizenship.

“The voter is presumed to be ineligible based on the secretary of state’s use of records that may or may not be a valid method,” Levy said. She went on to note that many of those the bill would target would not need copies of birth certificates but other forms of identification related to naturalization.

Gessler said he would be willing to amend his bill so that those who demonstrate hardship will be able to get naturalization papers to prove their citizenship at little or no cost. His office further indicated he is willing to include a clause that the bill will comply with the National Voter Registration Act.

DuRay said his main problem with the bill was that it had the potential to increase steps to voting for eligible citizens.

Other witnesses said the secretary of state’s office should be subject to a citizen oversight board when making any determinations on how to determine citizen eligibility.  

While no vote was cast by the Republican controlled House committee, Colorado Springs Republican Rep. Larry Liston’s concerns about “nefarious organizations” working to influence local elections, might provide insight into the flavor of the debate.

“There are nefarious organizations that are working to affect the outcome of elections. Let’s not kid ourselves, there are,” Liston said. “This doesn’t appear to be anything too onerous for people. Some people, I know, will object. Some people can’t find their wallet from day to day, but we all have to accept a certain level of responsibility and so forth. So, I would just say that something like this makes sense.”

If the bill does not pass into law, Gessler said he would likely get an opinion from the attorney general as to whether he needed General Assembly authorization to conduct the search and would likely turn the cases over to prosecutors as it is the only tool available to him right now.

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