The latest partisan slugfest to take place in the Democratic-held Colorado legislature is shaping up to be about election reform, with Democrats preparing to introduce a bill mandating that every registered voter be allowed to cast a ballot by mail and allowing new voters to register through Election Day.
After a brief lull in partisan bickering that has dominated the legislative session — mostly over gun control — battle lines are again being drawn, with Republicans described by the Durango Herald as “livid” over the proposed legislation.
Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler — who sued two Democratic-majority counties before the last election to prevent them from mailing ballots to inactive voters — told a reporter for the Denver Post that he was in “full honey badger mode,” referencing the nickname he earned for his willingness to stand his ground and fight.
The bill, first reported in the Post, has the backing of the Colorado County Clerk’s Association, which says that the broad changes to how elections are held would be easier for voters and cheaper for counties.
The bill will require county clerks to mail ballots to every registered voter, including inactive voters who’ve skipped participating in a past election. Voters can still vote in person at election service centers located in every county.
The clerk’s association said 74 percent of those who voted in the last election did so by mail, giving a clear indication of how voters prefer to vote.
But Republicans fear the changes will lead to voter fraud, especially the provision allowing nonregistered Colorado residents to register to vote on Election Day. The current deadline to register is 29 days before a statewide election.
Gessler told the Post that wouldn’t give election officials time to ensure that voters aren’t registered in more than one county.
Despite the support of the clerk’s association — and the individual support of even some Republican county clerks — not all of them are sold on the bill.
El Paso County, for example, isn’t a member of the Colorado County Clerk’s Association, and its county clerk issued a press release slamming the bill.
“I am concerned about the integrity of the election system and preserving voter choice,” Wayne Williams said in the press release. “I asked my office to estimate the cost of making the changes in this rewrite. Net cost increases from this bill in El Paso County will be $695,900 in 2014.”
He also called same-day registration “risky” and said the bill forces mail ballots on voters who don’t want them.
Republicans charge Democrats with working with liberal groups to push through special-interest legislation when they’re in the majority and with less than a month remaining in the regular session.
“Never before in the history of Colorado has one party made such sweeping changes to our electoral process without working across the aisle,” said Colorado GOP Chairman Ryan Call in a statement emailed to The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Democrats met behind closed doors with liberal interest groups, unions and their attorneys to come up with a plan that will help their special interests at the expense of the citizens of our state.”
But the bill’s sponsors — Democrats Rep. Dan Pabon and Sen. Angela Giron — say it’s time to modernize voting. Linked databases will flag people who try to register in more than one county, which supporters say will reduce the chance of voter fraud.
And the savings, according to former Secretary of State Donetta Davidson, a Republican, will come over the long term.
“There’s going to be some cost up front to mail the ballots, but it’s going to save money in the long run,” she told the Post. “Think about how much we’re spending on election equipment, and when you have this expensive equipment you have to fix it. You’re saving a lot of money right there.”
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