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Brief: Colorado election law reform in 2013 may have saved money in some counties

March 22, 2016 Updated: March 22, 2016 at 8:35 pm

Democrats' overhaul of Colorado election law in 2013 wasn't wildly expensive and may have even saved money in some counties, according to a brief on the issue released Tuesday by The PEW Charitable Trusts.

"This is an early look," said Sean Greene, project director for PEW. "Colorado is pretty unique that no state has done this kind of reform yet ... Our goal was really to see the impact of these policies. We know other states like California are considering the Colorado model."

The brief looked at the costs-per-voter in counties across the state.

It found that in 46 of 64 counties that reported cost data in the November 2014 elections, the cost per vote was $9.65 compared with nearly $16 in the 2008 general election.

The 2013 Voter Access and Modernization Elections Act implemented sweeping reforms. It allowed election day voter registration, required ballots to be mailed to every registered voter - not just those who requested it, eliminated precinct polling centers and instead mandated that counties open voter service centers where ballots could be dropped off, cast, and voters could register or update their information.

Republicans opposed House Bill 1303 every step of the way, but lacked the votes to stop the bill from being signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper. In a filibuster-like debate that stretched for hours in the Senate, Republicans raised concern about the cost but mostly focused on concerns that the combination of mail ballots with same-day voter registration could lead to voter fraud.

"In El Paso County it increased costs by 6 percent," said Secretary of State Wayne Williams, a Republican who opposed the bill in 2013 as El Paso County's Clerk and Recorder.

Williams said they were able to acquire all of the voter service center sites for free in 2014, something that was tough to accomplish given that the centers had to be open for several weeks. Otherwise the cost would have been more, he said.

But he said lawmakers have made vast improvements to the bill that he opposed in 2013.

"There are a lot of good things that HB13-1303 did," Williams said. "In 2014 we eliminated the mere-intent to move, and we continued to improve the voting list."

Williams said when he gave a presentation in California on a conference about voting reforms, he said there has been good and bad.

He said he's interested to compare the 2008 election costs to the 2016 elections because both are presidential years.

Greene said Colorado collects great cost-data on elections and the brief issued Tuesday is a "first-crack" at it.

The brief also found that:

- The use of provisional ballots declined nearly 98 percent. In the 2010 general election, voters in the state

cast 39,361 provisional ballots. In 2014, that number dropped to 981.

- Nearly two-thirds of voters in the 2014 general election said they returned their ballots in person, rather than by mail. Of these voters, almost 80 percent said it took them less than 10 minutes to get to a designated location, usually a drop box.

Greene said that part of what could have driven down costs was economies of scale in being able to negotiate better per-ballot prices for printing and mailing. As well as, he said more reliance on ballot-on-demand, printing ballots as needed instead of in bulk beforehand.


Contact Megan Schrader:


Twitter: @CapitolSchrader

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