Secretary of State Scott Gessler failed to get through the state Legislature a bill Monday that would have targeted those who registered to vote while not being U.S. citizens. As the bill crumbled under Sen. Rollie Heath’s gavel in the Senate State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee, Gessler told the Colorado Independent that there may still be a few tricks up his sleeve.
In an earlier committee meeting for HB 1252, Gessler had told committee members that if the bill didn’t pass he would probably provide district attorneys or the attorney general’s office with information he says may be enough to prosecute those suspected of having violated the law by registering to vote without being a citizen. Asked if he planned to move forward with that decision, Gessler said it was something that was still on the table.
“It is something that you have to consider,” Gessler said. “You have to look at the tools that are available.”
Still Gessler said he would have preferred that the bill simply passed.
“The frustrating thing is that it doesn’t make sense to investigate 12,000 people and that is what they are saying we should do,” said Gessler.
Despite appearing in numerous hearings in Colorado and in Washington and despite being pressed by the media, Gessler has not demonstrated that illegal voting has taken place in Colorado by a non-citizen.
Gessler has put forward his own office’s research to back up his claims that non-citizens are registered and could have voted in Colorado. Yet that research has come under attack for its methodology by voter advocacy groups, especially given the sweeping powers Harvey’s bill would grant Gessler and subsequent secretaries of state to throw voters off the rolls.
At the hearing Tuesday, Sen. Rolllie Heath predictably pressed Gessler on these points. Heath said that Gessler’s contention of thousands of non-citizen’s on the voter rolls simply was not supported by the data Gessler presented. He likened the bill to a witch hunt.
El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Wayne Williams, however, was unambiguous about his future plans. He said he planned to contact by letter those people in his county Gessler suspects of being illegally on the voting rolls.
“If they don’t respond (to the letter), you either have to go with law enforcement or you get someone to challenge individual voters. But this bill would have provided a better process,” Williams said.
He said he wasn’t sure if he would contact the sheriff’s office or the DA’s office but that certainly he would be working with Gessler to determine the best way to remove individuals from the voting rolls who do not belong there.
Gessler, after taking office in November, paired drivers licenses with voting records and found that many people who were registered to vote were not U.S. citizens at the time of registering. He said in the case of about a hundred of those individuals, they registered to vote before attaining a driver’s license or got their driver’s license the same day.
Heath was having little of Gessler’s study. After reading a letter by Colorado county clerk and recorders that called the bill unnecessary, Heath said that Gessler’s study provided no real evidence and was based on conjecture instead of scientific rigor.
“Why is this something other than a witch hunt?” Heath asked.
Gessler said that it wasn’t a witch hunt because he is not looking at it from a prosecutorial standpoint, but instead from an investigative role. He said all he is doing is trying to remove individuals from the roll who are not voters, and he said he has no intention of pressing charges.
Heath’s dismissal of the need for the bill, however, was shared by voters’ rights advocates who had come to testify against the bill.
Common Cause, New Era Colorado and others attacked the legislation from a multitude of angles but returned time and again to the use of databases not designed to provide the data Gessler was using them for. They said current laws and penalties in place for those voting illegally should be more than enough to deter people from doing so.
Gessler said that it was likely that many of the individuals on his list suspected of currently being on the voter rolls illegally may have actually become U.S. citizens since the time they registered to vote. However, he explained it was just as likely that many of them were still ineligible to vote and he said that ensuring that they were legally voting was not too much to ask.
Advocates disagreed and said that the chilling effect that the bill could have on some citizen’s voting rights did cross the “too much to ask” threshold.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, would have required the secretary of state to check voter rolls against not only driver’s license records but also against Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s database, jury summons recusals, and other governmental databases. Those suspected of being illegally on the voting rolls would have been asked to provide proof of citizenship within 90 days. In addition, the bill would have ensured the state would pay for the birth certificates of those citizens who could not produce or afford to produce a birth certificate.
When asked by Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins, if he had evidence to prove that illegal voting was going on in Colorado, Gessler said he did. He said that he could redact names and provide files.
Bacon said that he was asking if there was evidence for a conviction, not an accusation. Gessler said he could not provide such evidence.
Bacon said he may very well change his vote if a conviction came about.
Gessler told the Colorado Independent that that he wanted to wait to release the specifics about how the study was conducted until a later date.
On a humorous note, Rob DuRay, Field Director for New Era Colorado, in testimony asked if Gessler could verify whether President Barack Obama’s birth certificate was real or not.
“I want to know the answer,” DuRay told the Colorado Independent while holding up a copy of Obama’s birth certificate.
The bill died on a party line vote.