New law allows clerks to update voter rolls, opens door for voter fraud
In Colorado, more than 3.5 million citizens are eligible to vote, meaning they’re 18 or older and have citizenship status.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 74.4 percent of eligible Coloradans are registered to cast a ballot.
Based on the Census Bureau voter-age population estimates and voter registration estimates, a little more than 2.6 million people are actually registered to vote in Colorado.
As of Oct. 1, the Secretary of State’s downloadable voter registration list had more than
3.6 million active and inactive voters on it. That’s about a million more people than the Census Bureau accounts for.
“It’s a constant struggle we have to maintain the voter rolls and get people to remove themselves if they’re no longer eligible or live here,” said Andrew Cole, spokesman for the Colorado secretary of state.
Thanks to House Bill 1303, Colorado county clerk offices can now spend a little less time on the million voters who may have moved or passed away. The law allows clerks to update voter records more easily and more frequently than before.
Although the law may improve voter registration recordkeeping, the Colorado secretary of state’s office opposed the legislation for several reasons.
Andrew Cole, spokesman for Secretary of State Scott Gessler’s office, said the new process opens the door for more voter fraud than the previous system.
“I guess we don’t know that they’re (the intended voter is) receiving it. That’s why we do as much as we can to encourage people to keep their voter registration up to date,” he said. “We rely on voters to communicate with the clerks.”
Thirty-one of Colorado’s 66 counties have more registered (both active and inactive) voters than eligible voters. Some more populous counties, such as Denver and Jefferson, have differences greater than 10,000.
Under the new law, all active voters receive a mail ballot. Inactive voters do not receive a ballot.
Inactive voters are those who have not voted in the previous general election or those who did not respond to election correspondence at the registered address.
However, going forward under the new law, if a registered voter does not participate in a general election, that person is not categorized as “inactive.” If the mail ballot is returned as undeliverable, the voter is listed as inactive.
An inactive status does not prevent people from voting. Any inactive voter can stop in the clerk’s office and update records and vote.
“If people did not get their ballot, they need to call us,” said Lila Herod, Moffat County clerk and recorder.
To prevent voter fraud with the mail ballot system, clerk offices will use signature verification.
Herod said her office used signature verification before the bill was passed. When they receive a mail ballot, election judges take it into a room where they compare the signature on the ballot to the signature in the statewide voter registration system.
After verification is done, the judges will open ballots and run them through the scanner the office uses to tally votes.
If there’s a mismatch, which Herod said “knock on wood, I’ve never had happen,” she sends all of the required materials and documents to the district attorney’s office for voter fraud investigation.
Cole said the new system required also required a “huge technological undertaking.”
“What we had to do was make it so the system could talk all across the state in real time,” Cole said. Otherwise, a voter could show up in different locations and register to vote more than the allotted one time.
Before, the voter registration cutoff was 29 days before the election, and Cole said this gave clerk offices time to catch up on registration mailings. Voters can now register on Election Day or the same day that they vote.
Previously, if a voter wanted to register and vote on the same day, offices would have the voter fill out a provisional ballot.
Despite the potential flaws, Herod appreciates the bill and its effects on her office’s recordkeeping.
“We were never able to do any kind of changes without the voter initiating it themselves,” Herod said. The new law allows clerk’s offices statewide to use the U.S. Post Office’s National Change of Address database to clean up records.
They can also use records from the Colorado Department of Health to check for registered voters that may be deceased. Family members of the deceased can also stop in their local clerk office and sign a form indicating they are an immediate relative and the person has died.
If moving within Colorado, voters can change their registration via the Go Vote Colorado website.
Before the bill became effective in May 2013, voters had to request a mail ballot. Herod said a majority of Colorado’s voters were voting by mail, and that was part of the reason for the bill.
“I think that has helped more people actually vote and it’s saved the county a lot in that we don’t have to deploy a service center anymore,” said Tori Pingley, elections coordinator for Herod’s office.
They employ fewer election judges with this system, as well, Pingley added.