Sec of State Gessler lands on legislative ‘loser’ lists for voter ID debacle

As the architect and main lobbyist for a failed voter ID bill, Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler is landing on “losers” lists for the just-wrapped 2011 state legislative session. He ranked number five loser on the lefty activist ProgressNow list brought out last week and this morning rated a photo and a brief write up in the Denver Post legislative losers column.

Gessler came into office only weeks before Rep Chris Holbert, R-Parker, and Sen Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, introduced HB 1252, which sought to give the new secretary of state expansive powers to throw registered voters off the roll. The law would have required the secretary of state to “periodically check” voter rolls against a vague collection of databases “maintained by federal and state agencies.” If the secretary suspected that any registered voter “may not be a citizen,” he would initiate a 90-day process whereby the voter would have to prove again his or her right to vote.

Opponents of the legislation howled that Gessler was seeking a solution to a problem that didn’t exist. Cynics suspected the high-profile partisan Republican attorney was simply seeking cover to intimidate Democratic minority voters.

In one committee hearing, longtime elections integrity watcher Rep Lois Court, D-Denver, said she would like to see evidence that any non-citizens have participated in voter fraud in the state. No solid evidence ever came, despite the fact that Gessler appeared not just before lawmakers in Denver but also in Washington to tout unverified statistics his office compiled in support of the bill.

Jenny Flanagan, executive director for Colorado Common Cause, told the Colorado Independent as the bill was working its way through the legislature that it was a travesty.

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

Asked by the Colorado Independent to examine Gessler’s bill, Estelle Rogers, director of advocacy for Project Vote, said in effect that the bill stunk to high heaven.

“This does not appear to be a usual proof of citizenship bill,” she wrote in an email. “Instead it purports to allow ongoing questioning of one’s citizenship once a registrant is already on the rolls, setting up a class of voters who are, in effect, constantly ‘on probation’ because the secretary of state has ‘reason to believe’ they are not citizens.  

“The secretary says he is ‘certain’ that 106 people on Colorado’s voter roll of 3.7 million are ‘improperly registered.’ That’s about 0.0028648648649 percent of the voter roll. Obviously such an error rate is to be expected whenever human beings are copying data from one list to another. Before the secretary of state jumps to the conclusion that these are 106 cases of voter fraud, he should have a lot more evidence than mere suspicion.  Non-citizen voting is a fashionable political theme these days, but it has no basis in reality. And the right to vote is too important to confuse with sloganeering.”

ProgressNow was predictably acidic in assessing Gessler’s “non-citizen voter” crusade.

“Gessler’s drive to pass legislation giving him the power to purge the voter rolls of anyone he ‘believes is not a citizen’ set a new low for unsubstantiated conspiracy theories. Based on evidence Gessler admits has not been verified and figures that vary wildly, [the bill] he [was pushing] wasted the legislature’s time…  In the end, this embarrassing spectacle had only one purpose: to spread baseless fear and suspicion of minority voters.

Indeed, Gessler with his unverified “study” did at least succeed in winning this headline from Fox News:

Now that the legislative session is over and the non-citizen-voter non-issue has been set aside, here’s a real problem Gessler might find more compelling as the head of elections in Colorado– a problem Project Vote is working on across the nation and one Gessler might even tap Project Vote to help him address here.

From Project Vote’s website:

[A] significant portion of the electorate, concentrated in low-income and minority communities, is still alienated from the electoral process. This weakens our democracy by excluding from major public policy decisions the voices of the most vulnerable and least powerful. Project Vote knows that strong democracy needs active participation from all sectors of society, and works hard to engage low-income and minority voters in the civic process.

If the goal is to expand democratic participation in our state, then surely our secretary of state will concentrate future efforts and resources on bolstering not winnowing the voter rolls.