DENVER– The Colorado legislative session opens Wednesday but what’s promising to be a heated 2014 lawmaker election season is already well underway.
Lawmaker Clarice Navarro-Ratzlaff represents one of the state’s most competitive districts, House District 47. She held a fundraiser cocktail party tonight at the Warwick Hotel here that surely attracted many of the state’s top Republican politicos. The list likely includes Secretary of State Scott Gessler. The two are friendly. Navarro-Ratzlaff endorsed him for governor this summer, and Gessler sent out a tweet earlier in the day recruiting fundraiser attendees. It’s a safe bet the two worked together to fire up the Warwick cocktail crowd by talking about the need to guard against voter fraud. It wouldn’t be the first time they worked together to stoke heat around an issue that galvanizes Republican voters in the state.
Gessler and Navarro-Ratzlaff were the exclusive sources for a 2012 version of what has become a fairly regular series of headline-grabbing but loosely reported election-integrity stories pushed by the right-wing blogosphere to bolster arguments that laws that encourage voting by making it easier to cast ballots — like those that allow for same-day registration and universal mail-in ballots — should be repealed and replaced with stricter voter ID laws.
Channel 5 KOAA in Pueblo reported that some voters in the county had received duplicate ballots. It later came out that double ballots went out to roughly 200 of the county’s 60,000 registered voters.
“I think this really underscores the need to have measures — and these are things I’ve been pushing for a while — to make sure we’ve got accurate voter rolls,” Gessler told the station. “So this is a really disturbing systemic issue that’s going on in Pueblo now and we need to get to the bottom of this very quickly.”
Navarro-Ratzlaff said she was one of the voters who received two ballots.
“It makes you question how valid each election is, and elections are very important to the state of Colorado and Pueblo in general,” she told viewers. “So it’s very concerning.”
Meanwhile, her husband, Jace Ratzlaff, a longtime Republican politico — a former staffer for Republican U.S. Reps Marilyn Musgrave and Bob Schaffer (Schaffer helped run Coloradans for Change, a 2006 SuperPac, with Gessler) — pushed the fact that she got two ballots out to conservative blogs Colorado Peak Politics and Revealing Politics. He said they’d be “turning the ballots over to SOS [Gessler].”
KOAA didn’t report that Navarro-Ratzlaff was running for the statehouse in a competitive swing district that year. And Navarro-Ratzlaff didn’t tell viewers that the reason she received two ballots was because she had registered under two different names in a two-week period after moving to Pueblo the year before.
According to Bent and Pueblo county documents reviewed by the Independent, Navarro-Ratzlaff registered on September 30, 2011, as Clarice Yvette Navarro, her maiden name, and on October 14, 2011, as Clarice Yvette Ratzlaff, her married name.
Asked about the story this past November, Navarro-Ratzlaff seemed hazy on the details. She was prepping for a fundraiser that night, but told the Independent that she didn’t ever register twice or under different names. She said she had to re-register when she moved to Pueblo and she did, using her drivers license. She said her drivers license bears her married name and that she has been married for ten years, so what other name would she use? She said she still doesn’t know why she received two ballots, one under her maiden name and one under her married name.
“I have no idea. I can’t explain it,” she said.
Bent County Clerk Patti Nickell said these kinds of mistakes happen regularly and that the system is designed to catch them, partly by keeping detailed voter registration histories.
“She moved and she changed her name. People are often distracted when filling out the forms,” she said.
At the time of the KOAA story, Gessler and Pueblo Clerk Gilbert Ortiz were engaged in a high-profile court battle that was part of the ideological war pitting voting rights against voter fraud in the state. Ortiz, the Democrat, wanted to mail ballots to all registered voters and Gessler, the Republican, sued to stop him from sending them to so-called inactive voters.
In a later interview with KOAA on the story, Ortiz took the same kind of long view as did Nickell last month with the Independent, offering a counter to Gessler’s claims that the duplicate ballots were part of a “disturbing systemic issue.”
“There is always the possibility statewide that a person can be registered again in a different county,” he told KOAA. He said voters have to re-register when they change their name or address or party affiliation — all of which Navarro-Ratzlaff has done — but that the system records those changes and works to catch mistakes. “We look back into their history… two different ballots won’t be counted. That’s not going to happen. We’ll catch that.”
In fact, Pueblo County did catch the duplicate ballot error in 2012. The registrations of the voters who received them were updated.
That would seem to be the end of the story, but there’s an incidental post script.
In reviewing Navarro-Ratzlaff’s registration history, Clerk Nickell pointed out that, in 2001, the now-lawmaker also registered twice. She first registered on October 11 but, apparently fearing she may have missed the official registration deadline, took the time to “emergency register” on November 6, which was Election Day that year. In other words, Navarro-Ratzlaff had taken advantage of the “same-day registration” that her party — led by Gessler — now decries as a recipe for fraud. The county clerks and Democratic lawmakers who proposed to make same-day registration the law of the state and succeeded in doing so last year defended it against attacks precisely by pointing out that same-day registration has been an unproblematic valued option made available to voters in Colorado for years.