Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler told the Arapahoe County Republican Men’s Club recently that his office has removed more than 400 noncitizen residents of Colorado from the voter rolls, according to the Colorado Statesman.
“People were not citizens. They got their driver’s license, they became a citizen, they registered to vote, it’s a good thing. But I know some of that’s not OK. Now and then these things crop up in other states, big problems,” Gessler reportedly said. “The last two or three years prior to me taking office, there were about 150 people who had asked me to remove them from the voting rolls because they were non-citizens.
“So they’d registered to vote and then they’d realized, oftentimes when they applied for citizenship, that they’re not allowed to vote because of [being a] non-citizen, otherwise they can never become a citizen. So they asked to be removed, so I know there’s problems out there….
“Remember I told you about 150 people have been removed from the voter rolls as non-citizen? That number has ballooned to well over 400. In one more year we’ve more than doubled.”
Messages left with the secretary of state’s office seeking confirmation of the quotes and evidence to support the assertions they contain have so far gone unreturned.
In speaking to the Arapahoe County Republicans, Gessler, an unabashedly partisan conservative politics attorney for years before winning office, was defending moves he has made over the last year that he says were aimed at guarding against voter fraud. His actions– such as pushing legislation that would grant him the power to purge voters from registration rolls based on comparisons conducted by his office of “government databases” and suing Denver County to prevent its clerk from mailing ballots to registered voters before elections– drew howls from members of the media, county clerks and government watchdog organizations, who looked on them with deep suspicion and demanded evidence of voter fraud that might justify them.
Indeed, only weeks after taking office in 2011, Gessler had conjured the prospect that Colorado was plagued by noncitizen voter fraud in 2010. He delivered testimony in DC to that effect and the national Fox News website reported that 5,000 noncitizens had cast ballots here. Yet Gessler delivered scant evidence when journalists in Colorado came looking for him to back up his claims.
This latest report from the Statesman, published Thursday, continues a seesaw pattern, where Gessler pronounces a number– “400 noncitizens”– and the number is reported. Skepticism spirals out into the media landscape and then into the general public where the number and the word “noncitizen” live at the middle of a fuzzier, complicated, rippling story.
Still, Gessler’s latest comments on voter-roll purging came tied to red meat assertions about how the primary reason he ran for secretary of state was to help “stop the Obama train” and “turn it around,” so they come delivered in an especially charged package for an election-year audience.
Gessler, for example, told the Arapahoe Republicans that the alleged 400 noncitizens erroneously registered to vote had in fact been purged from the rolls. Removing a voter from the registration list, however, is an action that secretaries of state must do according to a process governed by federal law, according to Jenny Flanagan at Common Cause, a fact Coloradans may well recall.
“We’re talking about a systematic program proscribed by the National Voter Registration Act,” Flanagan told the Colorado Independent. “This is nothing haphazard.”
Flanagan’s group was part of the coalition that in 2008 sued then-Colorado GOP Secretary of State Mike Coffman to stop him from purging voter rolls in the state just weeks before the presidential election–the same election that put Coffman into Congress. The coalition was successful. U.S. District Court Judge John Kane ordered Coffman to cease and desist, calling the secretary of state “obdurate” for seeming to push back against the court on such a vital issue.
“Some voter registration rolls are messy, of course,” Flanagan said, “but… I can just say that these stories of noncitizens voting are always more complicated than they at first appear and so we are concerned.”
Flanagan said the 400 residents of Colorado, people who Gessler suggests in his quotes are documented but not yet citizens, would have had to submit requests to either the secretary of state’s office or county clerk offices to be removed from the voter rolls.
The Colorado Independent submitted an open records request with the secretary of state’s office Tuesday seeking documentary evidence that any such noncitizens asked to be removed from the rolls. According to state law, the secretary’s office has three days to deliver any relevant documents.