“I thought Hickenlooper started out well when he promised to be a moderate, but during this session he was anything but. He was a partisan rubberstamp for a partisan legislature. It was a ruthless display of political power.”
— Secretary of State Scott Gessler about a number of bills passed by the Colorado legislature and signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper.
Craig Depending on political affiliation, the first session of the 69th Colorado General Assembly could be summed up as monumentally historic or woefully un-American.
In just 120 days, state lawmakers passed some 440 bills out of more than 650 introduced in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Although many of those bills were customary pieces of legislation or largely symbolic in nature, the Democrat-controlled Legislature passed a number of laws that will result in sweeping changes to gun control, health care, education and energy.
For Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler, there was no more blatant example of partisan political power than House Bill 13-1303, a 128-page rewrite of Colorado’s voting laws.
Gessler, a native Chicagoan and former lawyer specializing in elections law, was elected to office in 2010 as a Republican. As secretary of state, Gessler serves as the chief elections supervisor, among other roles.
On Saturday, Gessler was the featured speaker during the annual Moffat County Republican Party Lincoln Day Dinner at the Holiday Inn of Craig. During his 20-minute address, Gessler outlined for about 40 local residents the flaws he sees in the new law and criticized Gov. John Hickenlooper as being a rubber-stamp governor for a partisan state Legislature.
Gessler has been rumored to be a potential Republican candidate for governor next year. The Denver Post reported last week that Gessler could forgo seeking re-election for his secretary of state post in order to vie for Hickenlooper’s office.
“As secretary of state and chief elections supervisor, it is my office’s responsibility to make it easy to vote but hard to cheat,” Gessler said. “I thought Hickenlooper started out well when he promised to be a moderate, but during this session, he was anything but.
“He was a partisan rubberstamp for a partisan Legislature. It was a ruthless display of political power.”
Specifically, Gessler disagrees with two key changes in the law, including allowing same-day voter registration and mandatory mail-in ballots for all Colorado residents regardless of voter registration status.
Gessler compared the bill to similar same-day voter registration systems in Oregon and Milwaukee, Wis., that were proven in the past to encourage voter fraud.
He said that during the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, George W. Bush lost in Milwaukee to Al Gore and to John Kerry by a slim margin of about 5,000 and 8,000 votes, respectively. He said the number of ballots cast in those elections was about 4,000 votes higher than Milwaukee’s population.
“I love to see high voter turnout, but when it’s above 100 percent there’s a problem,” Gessler said.
Gessler acknowledged that Colorado has had its elections problems in the past and noted there still are 10 Colorado counties that have more names on the registered voter rolls than there are people.
But since taking office two years ago, the Secretary of State’s Office has identified and removed 1,000 noncitizens from Colorado’s voter rolls, Gessler said. In addition, 2012 Colorado voter turnout was the third highest in the nation, exceeding its previous record in 2008.
Colorado also saw a 65 percent increase in military and overseas voters in 2012 over the previous presidential election, Gessler said.
“We outperform almost every other state in terms of voter turnout and we outperform the eight same-day voter registration states,” Gessler said. “This wasn’t a problem that needed to be solved. Not one Republican amendment was accepted and not one person from my office was consulted on this bill.”
The Secretary of State’s Office currently is compiling a database of registered voters in Colorado that likely will have to be live and electronic to prevent residents from voting in multiple districts or counties.
Although the Secretary of State’s Office receives no taxpayer funding, Gessler estimates it will cost his office $1.5 million to prepare for November’s election and another $300,000 for each future election.
“You have to look at the numbers,” Gessler said. “I’m not ignoring the fact that we’ve (Colorado) had our problems in the past, but why would we want to go to a system that is a proven failure?”
Supporters of the recent election legislation say it actually will reduce the chance of voter fraud, and they criticized the previous registration deadline of 29 days before an election as dating to an era in which most things were done on paper and by mail.
Gessler hasn’t steered clear of controversy himself. He’s being investigated for a possible ethics violation relating to his use of discretionary office funds to attend national Republican events in Florida last year. Gessler has said the allegations are frivolous and politically motivated.
Joe Moylan can be reached at 970-875-1794 or jmoylan@CraigDailyPress.com