Guarding against fraud

Elections official confident county registration lists are accurate

Forty-one pages of new election requirements arrived in Moffat County Clerk and Recorder Elaine Sullivan's e-mail inbox Monday, the result of a statewide effort to ensure only those with a right to vote cast ballots Nov. 2.

The emergency rules were instated when it was discovered that 6,352 possible voter registration forms were matches for felons.

Under Colorado law, felons are allowed to vote only if they are no longer incarcerated and are not on parole.

The new rules require county clerks to check their voter registration lists for felons and flag them.

"A fraudulent vote that nullifies a legal one disenfranchises the legal voter as surely as if his or her vote had never been cast at all," Secretary of State Donetta Davidson said.

The discovery meant, for the first time, that county clerks and recorders were given lists of convicted felons residing in their counties. Moffat County's list has 25 names.

Until she received a list from the state, Moffat County Election Official Lila Herod said she had no way to track convicted felons or determine whether they still were incarcerated or off parole.

The state also provides counties lists of deceased voters or ones with a registration in more than one county.

But that doesn't solve the problem, Herod said. In fact, sometimes it makes it more difficult, she said.

College students who are registered to vote in one county and participate in a voter registration drive in another are removed from their home county's registration -- something they typically didn't intend to happen.

"I've seen a lot of our college kids get canceled this year," Herod said.

The clerk's office has been inundated with requests for absentee ballots that have been sent to voters by special interest groups or candidates.

While the process seemingly made it easier for voters, more than 200 were returned to the clerk's office because voters' addresses -- often preprinted on the card -- were incorrect.

As far as duplicate registrations go, Moffat County's voter registration computer software raises flags when two people with similar names, Social Security number or birth date register.

Problems can crop up because, though the state has its own master list, a nationwide list doesn't exist, and one isn't expected until 2006.

That means there's no way to tell whether a voter is registered in more than one state.

Additionally, difficulties can arise when people change their names. If they've registered previously and were given a county identification number because they didn't have their Social Security number available, a chance exists that they can register and vote twice.

"There's never been a problem in Moffat County with voter registrations, to my knowledge," Herod said. "But unless someone challenges it, who would know?"

It's against the law for Herod to remove a voter from the registration list without the voter's signature or confirmation from the Secretary of State that the voter should be removed.

After each election, poll books are audited to ensure that they match voter registrations and ballots. Then a canvas board double-checks the numbers.

"I haven't seen anything to think any voter's fraudulent," Herod said. "I think that we're a small enough county that we don't have these problems."

A conflict exists in laws that attempt to ensure all residents who can vote are able to and protect the integrity of registration lists.

Emergency voter registration means a voter can register and vote on the same day. That presents a problem in metro areas, where a person can travel from county to county registering and voting.

Herod is confident that Moffat County's registration lists are accurate, based on information from the state and the county's own program that prevents duplications.

"As far as duplications, we don't have any," she said. "Our locator files are clean."

Because of statewide controversy about the purity of registration logs, state Rep. Dave Schultheis, R-Colorado Springs, plans to introduce the Voter Registration Accountability Act of 2005 when the Legislature convenes in January.

"Absolutely nothing is more important to democracy than our citizens being able to count on the integrity of the ballot box," he said. "Obviously, that is undermined when we hear reports of convicted felons being able to vote and voter registration fraud being perpetuated."

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210, or at ccurrie@craigdailypress.com.

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