Mile-High Melee Continues: New Colorado Bill Divides SoS, Clerks

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Over a year ago, I wrote about how Colorado had become the site of several high-profile election controversies … and now things are heating up again.

A new sweeping election bill has emerged that is once again pitting clerks against one another and the Secretary of State. The Denver Post has the details:

Colorado could change the way America votes, but first the Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act has to make its way through the Colorado statehouse. And that’s going to be a tall order. The ground-breaking proposal would send mail ballots to every voter, allow Election Day registration and put all the counties on a real-time statewide database that supporters say would weed out cheaters who try to vote twice.

The bill cleared its first legislative hurdle Monday evening when it passed the House’s State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee by a 7-4 party line vote, after more than seven and a half hours of testimony from dozens of public officials and otherwise private individuals on each side. it now moves to the House appropriations committee.

Opponents say the change isn’t needed for a state with strong voter participation, while it increases the chances of voter fraud. Same-day registration won’t provide enough time to weed out cheaters, say Republicans aligned against the bill, including Secretary of State Scott Gessler.

In one sense, this debate is very similar to numerous others across the country about the wisdom of same-day registration and the expansion of vote by mail. But what makes this debate so interesting is the divide it has exposed within the state’s election community:

One of the chief backers is Colorado County Clerks Association executive director Donetta Davidson, Colorado’s Republican secretary of state from 1999 to 2005, a former president of the National Association of Secretaries of State and a member of the Federal Election Commission’s advisory board.

“We’ve managed to, I believe, put together a bill that I think is a model for the nation,” she told The Denver Post editorial board before Monday afternoon’s hearing.

But several of Davidson’s colleagues – including Secretary of State Scott Gessler, who is no shrinking violet on election policy – are targeting the bill for defeat:

Wayne Williams, the El Paso County clerk and recorder, said he quit the Colorado County Clerks Association at the end of 2012, partly because the organization backed the bill. “This strips neighborhood voting from the citizens of the state,” he said of mail ballots.

Gessler, the state’s chief election official, spoke in staunch opposition of the bill. He noted that his office was not directly involved in drafting the legislation. He chafed at supporters’ description of the plan as bipartisan, because of the involvement of some Republican county clerks.

“This is a flawed bill, and it’s an example of bad government,” he said, adding there was no real effort to consult those, like himself, who have opposing views. No Republicans in the statehouse were involved, he said, just Democrats.

One fascinating aspect of the debate is the use of cost data to support or oppose the bill, especially with regard to vote by mail:

“This has big costs,” Gessler said of the proposal, calling the costs estimated by backers as skewed and woefully short of reality …

Williams said it would cost his office nearly $700,000. “This is not a good bill,” he said. “It’s an open door to fraud, and it’s going to cost taxpayers money,” he said.

Other clerks, though, said switching to mail will mean buying less equipment to operate and maintain for a ever-shrinking number of people who still vote in person. That could save millions of dollars in some county over a longer period of time. Denver expects to save a total of about $730,000 in next year’s general election alone, director of elections Amber McReyholds said.

Gessler said clerks are cooking the savings numbers. “These numbers are, frankly, suspect, should I say,” he told the committee. Gessler said clerks are counting all the cost of replacing equipment upfront, rather than factoring it over time; those won’t be ongoing savings. He said a study of operating costs for all-mail ballot system indicated it would save a maximum of 26 percent, before adding in the costs of setting up vote centers and other mechanisms for the new system, such as the ever-increasing price of postage.

Looks like the rhetoric, like much of the state, is about to get a mile high. Stay tuned.

1 Comment on "Mile-High Melee Continues: New Colorado Bill Divides SoS, Clerks"

  1. Jeanne Youngquist | April 16, 2013 at 6:30 pm | Reply

    Sounds like the Clerks are on the right track.
    The Republican Secretary of State helped Washington State into the system discribed in the article, with the exception of same day registration.
    We have been successfully voting by mail for years and progressivy get better at it year by year.
    The nation should use us as a model. We provide an Accurate, Secure, Efficient and Economical system with very high participation.
    We have a state wide data base with growing interfaces across the nation eliminating potential fraud.

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