Colorado voters have been in for a ride this summer, making national news for un-registering to vote by the thousands and switching their status to “confidential.”
Between June 29 and Sept. 17 of this year, 6,648 Coloradans, most of them Democrats, unregistered according to numbers provided by the Secretary of State’s office.
The kicker: Only 531 of them have re-registered, the office said today.
That revelation drew rebuke from elections watchdogs in Colorado.
“This is a direct result of a presidential commission whose creation was predicated on a false narrative,” said Denise Maes, the public policy director for the ACLU of Colorado. “I do hope all of these eligible voters eventually do re-register in time for the next election.”
In the past few months, voters told election officials they were taking themselves off the rolls in response to a task force set up by President Donald Trump that requested the publicly available personal information of voters in all 50 states. Trump’s commission formed after Trump said, without evidence, that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election he won. Some voters in Colorado said they didn’t want their voter data in the hands of an administration they did not trust.
Elena Nuñez, director of Common Cause Colorado, noted the state has been a leader in advancing policies for convenient, accessible, and secure elections. Coloradans vote by mail and have same-day registration, which has led to high voter turnout.
“It is a problem that the vast majority of Colorado voters who unregistered to vote because they feared the actions of the Pence-Kobach commission have chosen not to register to vote again,” she said. “We remain concerned that the Pence-Kobach commission, premised on the lie of rampant illegal voting, is nothing more than a partisan attempt to manipulate our voting processes that will make it harder for eligible Americans to vote.”
Of the 6,648 voters who unregistered, 3,070 were Democrats and 2,387 were unaffiliated. A total of 1,024 Republicans unregistered between those dates. In Colorado there were 1,143,000 registered Democrats, 1,129,000 Republicans and 1,371,000 unaffiliated voters as of August 2017.
One of those Democratic voters who unregistered is Bob Bair, a retired school principal who has served as an election judge in the Denver area since 2008. He told The Colorado Independent that he and his wife Connie un-registered after hearing Trump’s task force wanted data from Colorado’s voters.
“I didn’t want my information turned over to the Donald Trump administration,” he said in an interview. “I don’t trust the Donald Trump administration to maintain the kind of security that I would want.”
Both of them have yet to come back on the rolls, Bob Bair said Sept. 21, adding that he’s just not sure the “coast is clear.” But he says the couple will get back on the rolls in time for the next local election in their community.
“Doggonit, I’m 71 years old and I have voted in every election since I’ve been legally able to do so based on my age, and I’m not going to miss an election or stop because of this as long as I feel that my data is secure,” he said.
Below is a graph created by The Colorado Independent tracking voter drop off by date and party. It’s likely not all voters unregistered in response to state and national news events, but for reasons as typical as moving to another state. But clearly the large spikes are atypical, and county election workers say they have never seen so many people casting off their franchise at once in Colorado.
News of Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, headed by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas GOP Secretary of State Kris Kobach, broke on June 29. Notice the high spike rising around July 3 and crashing around the middle of that month. Those dates fall between the day news broke about Trump’s voter commission asking Colorado for public information on all its voters, and the date Colorado’s secretary of state, Republican Wayne Williams, initially said he would provide it. More than half the total un-registers between June 29 and Sept. 17 came within those few weeks.
Williams’ plans to send the voter file to Trump’s task force on July 14 were thwarted because of a lawsuit against the Kobach commission. Williams announced he would hold off until he was given the green light. When a judge ruled on the lawsuit, Williams said he would turn over Colorado’s voter file to the feds on July 31, a Monday.
About 280 voters took themselves off the rolls around that weekend— but Mondays are also catch-up days for the secretary of state to record voter activity that happened over the weekend. There’s usually a lag time of a fews hours to a day in the reporting time after someone un-registers, according to the secretary of state’s office.
For comparison, only 374 voters unregistered in the entire month of July last year.
During this two-and-a-half-month timespan, voters also figured out something else. If they officially became “confidential voters” they could keep their current information from the hands of Trump’s task force. During the June 29 to Sept. 17 window, 321 voters chose that option.
Here’s a graph created by The Colorado Independent that shows the numbers of Colorado voters who chose to do that, and their party:
Again, unaffiliated voters tracked with Democrats in going through the process of becoming a confidential voter.
That process was not as simple as unregistering to vote, which voters could do quickly and online. Voters who became confidential had to go in person to their county election office and fill out an affidavit swearing they believed they would be face harassment or violence if their voting file is public.
On Twitter, Secretary of State Williams was promoting voter registration on the day his office released figures, by request, showing how many had leapt from the rolls and not come back.
— Colorado Sec. of State (@COSecofState) September 20, 2017
Gerry Cummins, who does voter outreach for the League of Women Voters of Colorado, said despite the low number of re-registers she is still optimistic many more will come back. Before 8 a.m. this morning she herself was headed out to a voter registration drive.
“I think those who were sharp enough to know how to cancel their registration are also sharp enough to reregister when they want to,” she said.