Colorado lawmakers prepare to address voter ballot issue raised by Gessler

DENVER– Depending on whether or not related legal action restarts in US district court here, Colorado lawmakers plan to take up the question of which voters county clerks will be required to mail ballots to in future elections.

“We’re batting around a lot of different ideas,” state Representative Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, told the Colorado Independent. “We’ll be looking at where there’s common ground. We’ll be talking with county clerks to find the best way to reach out to voters and to establish a system where all Coloradans have equal access to the political process.”

Duran was speaking generally about conversations taking place among members of the Democratic caucus in the state House, but she added that she’s confident there would be bipartisan support for any well-crafted bill that fairly addresses the question raised by Secretary of State Scott Gessler when he sued Denver County last month to prevent Clerk Debra Johnson from mailing ballots to legally registered but “inactive” voters.

“The overall goal has to be to facilitate the right to vote. Voting is an American value that people cherish. Expanding the franchise is the goal,” said Duran. “I mean, we have GOP county clerks like Sheila Reiner in Mesa County who agree that Gessler’s action was an overstep.”

Gessler, a Republican who made a career as a private attorney championing partisan interpretations of election and campaign finance law, argued that state law requires clerks mail ballots to only active registered voters. Gessler said he was seeking to prevent fraud but he supplied no evidence that any fraud had occurred in Colorado in recent elections, much less fraud that suggested mailing ballots to inactive voters in any way increased the likelihood of fraud.

Inactive voters in Colorado are those who have registered but who have failed to cast a ballot in the previous even-year election.

Roughly 2.4 million Coloradans voted in the presidential election of 2008. The 2010 midterm election, however, drew only 1.8 million voters. There are now roughly 1.2 million voters categorized as inactive in Colorado. A disproportionate share of those inactive voters live in Democratic Party dominated Denver County.

Mailing ballots to inactive voters has been demonstrated to increase participation. Voters are much more likely to cast ballots they receive in the mail than they are to track down a ballot or request one to complete and return.

In Denver last year, Clerk Johnson estimated that mailing to inactive voters translated to 10,000 votes. That same year, Democratic US Senator Michael Bennet defeated Republican Ken Buck by only roughly 15,000 votes statewide.

On October 7, Judge Brian Whitney threw out Gessler’s lawsuit, ruling that the Secretary of State’s interpretation of election law in the case was insupportable. Gessler has not said whether or not he plans to appeal the decision.

That Gessler’s actions seemed rushed and even slapdash bolstered the impression among legal analysts and members of the press that Gessler was acting baldly to suppress votes in the state, joining Republicans in states coast to coast who this year have spearheaded an historic raft of similar efforts.

Maps of inactive voters in Denver broadcast by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow highlighted the fact that Gessler’s injunction against mailing inactive voters ballots, had it been upheld, would have overwhelmingly affected minority voters in the city, voters with less access to the internet, for example, who move often and who are clustered partly in Representative Duran’s House District 5.

“I’m watching this very closely,” Duran said. “This is just incredibly important. There’s no reason why legally registered voters should have to jump through additional hoops.”

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