DENVER (AP) — Citing an ongoing investigation, Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler said Tuesday he would not allow public inspection of the list of nearly 4,000 registered voters he suspects are ineligible to vote because they're not citizens.
Gessler was responding to an open record request from The Associated Press seeking to review the list to determine who the secretary mailed letters to last week, asking them to verify their citizenship or voluntarily withdraw from the rolls.
"Obviously our intent is to improve the integrity of the voting rolls. It's not to draw attention to specific individuals," Gessler spokesman Rich Coolidge said.
Coolidge said Gessler doesn't want people who voluntarily withdraw from the voter rolls to be prosecuted. But it's unclear what will happen to people who don't withdraw from the list if they're ineligible to vote.
"We're still trying to identify a path forward with that," Coolidge said.
Democrats and left-leaning groups have criticized Gessler for his proposal to verify citizenship. They say it cannot ensure that eligible voters will not be removed from the rolls.
"It's difficult, because not knowing who's on the rolls, it's hard to evaluate the secretary's approach and to see if certain types of voters are being targeted," said Elena Nunez, the executive director of voting rights group Common Cause.
Coolidge said he didn't know if the records would be public at any point.
Republicans have been largely behind efforts across the country to verify voters' citizenship, to the ire of Democrats who worry that a key part of their base is likely to be disenfranchised: Latinos and seniors.
In the response denying access to the records, Gessler's office said that the "list is a record of an ongoing administrative investigation conducted in furtherance of our statutory authority to enforce the election code."
The letter mailed to registered voters last week went to people who once presented documents showing that they were not citizens, such as a green card, when they applied for a driver's license. Gessler has maintained that at about 2,000 people fitting that criteria have voted in the past.
But opponents of Gessler's plan argue that there's no evidence of widespread fraud. They say that it's difficult to determine when those people who once presented a green card or another immigration document later became citizens, and where thus eligible to vote.
Florida officials have also pursued the removal of potential non-citizens from their voter rolls, but a list of about 2,700 voters marked as ineligible through the state motor vehicle agency showed that hundreds were actually citizens.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security had said it would expand access to an immigration database so that states can use it to remove non-citizens from voter rolls. States that have sought access to the database include Florida, Washington and Colorado. The system known as the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements contains information about immigrants in the country legally, with a green card for example, who are eligible to receive government benefits.
Coolidge said that while Colorado is still waiting for access to that database, Gessler wanted to be proactive.
"Obviously Colorado demands to have clean and accurate voting lists, and that's what we're doing," he said.
Last year, Gessler asked the Colorado Legislature for permission to mail letters to suspected non-citizens on the voter rolls, but lawmakers rejected the idea. At the time, some lawmakers questioned whether Gessler already had the authority to do so.
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