A report today from national NBC News:
Scott Gessler isn’t a household name in national politics, but could become famous in a hurry, just as Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris did during the 2000 presidential recount…
[A]s Colorado’s Republican secretary of state, elected in 2010, Gessler could have a decisive influence on the November outcome in the state. He has launched efforts to remove ineligible people from the voter rolls. And if it’s a close vote, he would preside over any recount and be the official who certifies the state’s electoral vote to the U.S. House of Representatives after the election.
…The 1993 National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) bars states, within 90 days of an election, from conducting a systematic program to remove ineligible people from its voter lists.
Under NVRA, Colorado might face an Aug. 8 deadline to remove names from its list, but Gessler said “there’s a real question as to whether that Aug. 8 deadline even applies” because if the state sends a letter to each person asking him or her to clarify their status, the voter verification effort won’t be a systemic voting list purge and therefore won’t fall within the NVRA’s window. [Pols emphasis]
…Gessler’s critics accuse him of obstructing eligible voters in an effort to hold down voter turnout. He’s engaged in a dispute with some county clerks in Colorado over sending ballots to inactive voters (those who missed one election); some Democrats say he’s depriving people of their vote, Gessler says he’s enforcing the law.
In further support of this apparent disregarding of the August 8th deadline for purging voters from the rolls ahead of a federal election, Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler cites a decision that he claims ruled the law only protects lawful voters purged, not “illegal voters” who should never have been registered to begin with. But Gessler’s statement is making voting rights activists deeply nervous that this business of undermining confidence in the system based on unverified claims, then demanding action be taken in response to those unverified claims, is going to continue all the way through Election Day.
The dispute over mailing ballots to so-called “inactive-failed to vote” voters is another case where Gessler is taking a highly controversial action, ordering ballots not be sent to registered voters, in the name of “enforcing the law”–even after legislators who passed the law testified that wasn’t their intent. The Colorado Statesman goes in-depth on Gessler’s new proposed rules today:
The two former lawmakers sponsored House Bill 1329 in 2008 that required county clerks to mail ballots to inactive voters in the 2009-2010 election cycle. Gordon, speaking on behalf of himself and Marshall, said he never expected after the law passed that there could be an instance of fewer people voting because they are inactive.
“We wanted to increase the opportunity for people to vote and not allow any possibility that because we had mail ballot elections, that fewer people would be [voting],” Gordon testified before the six-member board to a gallery full of applause. “We think that voting actually is not just a private vote for the person who gets the vote, but a public good, and that the more people who vote, the more legitimate the elected officials are, and that they represent the actual values of the electorate.”
Setting aside the specifics of these two issues for a moment, the common thread between them is the thing that Gessler denies most: that both will result in reducing the number of presently eligible voters. We don’t know anyone who wants noncitizens to vote, or for a ballot to be returned by someone other than the voter it was intended for, but there’s an ongoing gap between Gessler’s warnings of a problem and actual evidence backing his warnings up. Still another story today in the Fort Collins Coloradoan illustrates what we’ve been documenting in this space ever since Gessler took office:
Gessler has said that more than 5,000 registered Colorado voters at one point weren’t citizens, and 2,000 of them have voted. His office has since issued revised estimates that put the number of fraudulent voters at fewer than 500. [Pols emphasis]
Luis Toro, director of Colorado Ethics Watch, said Gessler is playing politics.
“Many numbers have come out from the secretary of state’s office,” Toro said. “None of them have held up under scrutiny. Five thousand was a talking point … but that was never substantiated. The numbers get smaller every time they examine it. They still don’t have any proof that anyone was improperly registered.”
Gessler “does seem to have a habit of putting big numbers out and trying to, later on, walk them back quietly,” Toro said.
As we’ve pointed out over and over for a year and a half now, the normal rate of naturalization of new citizens in Colorado is sufficient to more than account for the suspected number of “noncitizen voters.” In most cases, we fully expect that’s how this discrepancy will be explained. We have yet to hear from anyone who believes there will be a significant number of “illegal voters” uncovered, but we’ve heard many concerns about the methods Gessler may employ to compare between the federal database and Colorado voter rolls.
Gessler throws out “big numbers” because he knows more people will see them than will ever see the correction of those numbers. In this, as with the push to stop ballot delivery to “inactive” voters, thus in effect creating two classes of voter, the true objective of his work seems increasingly undeniable. And that is a large investment of time and resources to reduce the number of people who vote, yet in all likelihood uncovering a much lower rate of error/”fraud” than many other common election-day problems cause without controversy.
Perhaps it will be the national media who does the thing our genteel local Colorado press has been too often unwilling to do–stop taking “Honey Badger doesn’t care” for an answer, and calling out a chief elections officer whose top priority is to reduce election participation.