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April 09, 2013 09:30 AM UTC

Republicans Wage Pre-Emptive War on Election Bill

  • by: Colorado Pols

AP's Ivan Moreno:

[An election reform] bill of more than 100 pages is expected to be introduced this week, likely sparking a big partisan fight over whether the changes benefit one party over the other.

Supporters of the changes, which also include eliminating the so-called "inactive voter" status, say the goal is to make voting more accessible.

"I think people are like me, they just want people engaged in the Democratic process," said Democratic Sen. Angela Giron, one of the bill sponsors. She insisted they didn't exclude Republicans from the process.

Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler, who oversees elections and has butted heads with Democrats on a range of issues, said the bill was "written in complete secrecy excluding anyone who may have a different point of view."

What we know about the legislation in question, expected to drop tomorrow, is that it makes a number of changes to Colorado's election system, with an eye toward resolving unintended barriers to voting, and modernizing procedures to reflect the fact that voting registration is no longer paper-based. With the ability to instantly verify a voter's status and voting history, many longstanding practices, like a deadline for voter registration weeks before the actual election, no longer make sense–and actually create impediments to perfectly legal, eligible voters.

So naturally, Republicans led by Secretary of State Scott Gessler are screaming bloody murder

One of the major problems in Colorado's election system this bill seeks to resolve is that of so-called "inactive-failed to vote" voters. Historically, it wasn't a big deal for a voter to miss a midterm election. With mail-ballot elections, however, missing a single general election means you in many cases won't get a mail ballot automatically for the next–even if you thought you were a "permanent" vote by mail voter. You'll recall that the dispute over "inactive" voters led to a court battle between Gessler and a number of county clerks, which Gessler lost. Since then, Gessler has paid lip service to compromise on the issue, but also worked to thwart resolution to this problem in the Colorado legislature. Unsurprisingly, Gessler hates this latest actual bill–and is reportedly upset that this issue he claims to be willing to "compromise" on could be included with these other reforms he opposes.

Here's the bottom line, folks: this bill is about making it easier to vote, and solving problems in the voting system that exist today. It's about making sure voters have the maximum number of options to cast their ballot, and the fewest number of arbitrary hurdles and hidden steps to complete. And yes, since there's no actual technical or security problem with doing so, the bill allows eligible voters to register right up through Election Day.

You're going to hear a great deal about this bill over the next couple of weeks. It could be the last remaining major battle in one of the most productive and memorable sessions of the Colorado legislature in our lifetimes. When Republicans charge that these reforms will "benefit one party over the other," the key thing to ask is why that's so. Since clearly the allegation is that the bill will benefit Democrats, why is that? Is this an inference of fraud, for which there is no evidence, or simply an admission that making voting easier will help more currently nonparticipating but eligible people vote–and that is ipso facto bad for Republicans?

Absent the fraud constantly alleged yet never proven, the questions this invites about the true motives for resisting basic modernizations of our election system are much worse than anything Democrats can be accused of. Pre-emptively throwing a fit is a good tactic…for when you do not hold the moral high ground.


10 thoughts on “Republicans Wage Pre-Emptive War on Election Bill

  1. The one problem is that sometimes the, "inactive – failed to vote" people have a good reason why they didn't vote.  In my case, it is because I moved to Ohio (where I did vote).  I know the Obama campaign thought I was in Colorado as they kept calling me about early voting in Colorado and other Denver events, even on my home line in suburban Cleveland!  They called less about voting in Ohio since I vote in just about every election here, which would be enough to put me on their, "don't worry, he'll vote" list.

    1. That really should be handled by the states themselves, and depending on the destination state it sometimes is.

      But for every person that moves and doesn't get unregistered in their old location there's another two or three who simply didn't vote in an off-year election.

      Fix the problem of non-notification, don't deprive real voters of their vote.

      1. And of course, having actually read the bill, it puts the onus on the SoS's office and the clerks by having the SoS forward to the clerks the results of an NCOA search along with Dept. of Health and Dept. of Corrections DB cross-links that might flag an ineligible voter.

        1. What?  Honey Badger might have to do more work and not spend so much time spending tax funded perdiems and travel dollars to attend out-of-state partisan events? 

  2. I think the article title is unfair. A lot of Republicans, including all the Republican County Clerks, are working to improve the election law. Yes Gessler and some others oppose it, but that doesn't count as a Republican war on elections.

  3. Well, now that the draft version is out, we can see how hard it would be for Sec. Gessler to read through it and evaluate it for himself. In fact, I've just sat through all 122 pages of changes myself, just to try it out.

    Verdict: still a bit rough around the edges, but understandable. Needs someone to review it for consistency. (E.g. found a place or two where 'precinct' was left in unnecessarily, and found a couple of grammatical issues with edits.)

    Barron will be unhappy; the bill explicitly works around the ACP's temporary rise in status in the formation of an election advisory committee. Speaking of which, the bill goofs by assigning board representation to exactly two major parties even if three (or one, or more than three) parties qualify (say, if the GOP self-implodes again in the next election…).

    Other than that, the bill:

    • allows more elections to be mail ballot elections
    • enacts same-day voter registration and information updates, including in-state change of address. This appears to apply to party affiliation, too.
    • does away with "permanent mail-in ballot" status, reverting to absentee ballot requests
    • does away with "Inactive, failed to vote" status
    • reduces the amount of time required for residency to 22 days, with validation.
    • tells the Secretary of State to do regular checks on the NCOA, DOH, and DOC databases to find potentially ineligible voters. (Clerks still do the follow-up.)
    • pretty much ends the precinct voting arrangement in favor of vote centers and mail ballot drop-off locations.
    • makes some other seemingly minor tweaks to language and rules.


    • Same-day registration for party affiliation. I've made myself clear on this in the past: party affiliation (and your acceptance into the party) is a 1st Amendment right, and same-day party affiliation defeats that right. Of course, in my perfect world primaries would be held strictly by the parties, who would offer their official endorsement to the primary winner but would otherwise be uninvolved in the general election ballot layout; elections would be held via a system of ranked choice voting.
    • Some of the language being "cleaned up" includes removing language about ballot stubs. Yes, Virginia, those are actually real security measures.
    • It moves toward mail balloting. Yes, it's more accessible. Yes, it's less secure than in-person voting.
    • Neither of the above is on the average Republican's radar. They don't care (and never make the argument) that changes in voting make voting less secure. You'll note I'm not criticizing the security of same-day registration; that's because with today's information systems, it's not less secure.
    1. Well, in general I  know a lot of people who vote who should not. 

      Not because they are not legally eligible- of this I have no idea. 

      But because they are idiots who neither know nor care about any election enough to have even a basic understanding of the impact of their vote.

      But as i see no way around that, the problems we have now that are eirther not addressed in the proposed rule or make things worse:

      – dominance of the two party rule

      – arcane and bizzare timing restrictions on registration and voting

      – definition of "residence" for voting purpose (can a voter register with a dorm room address? when they switch rooms, do they have to register again? Do students vote at "home"? Which one? Why do all the military in the state "reside" in Texas on tax day, but in Colorado on voting day? and so on)



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