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Colorado county charges 4 with voter fraud

November 22, 2013 Updated: November 22, 2013 at 9:30 pm

DENVER (AP) — Two people who are not citizens but are suspected of voting have been charged in Arapahoe County after a months-long investigation, prosecutors said Friday.

The charges are the first and only to come from a request by Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler, who referred 155 suspected noncitizens to Colorado county prosecutors in July. Gessler's efforts to investigate voter fraud by noncitizens have rankled Democrats, who question the political motivations of the state's chief elections official.

Noncitizens may include people in the country illegally or legal residents. Only citizens can vote — people with green cards are not eligible.

Arapahoe County also announced charges Friday against two voter registration canvassers who were not part of Gessler's list of suspected noncitizens. District Attorney George Brauchler, a Republican, said canvassers sometimes mislead registrants about their eligibility to vote.

The Arapahoe County District Attorney's office assigned six investigators who spent a combined 300 hours looking at the 41 names Gessler sent them, the most he referred to any county.

Brauchler said the investigation showed that voting fraud in his jurisdiction is not widespread.

"I think people in our community ought to feel comfortable about that," he said.

At the same time, he said cases of potential fraud need to be treated seriously and that he hopes the investigation highlights some flaws in the system. For example, he said there's no database his investigators could use to easily determine a voter's citizenship.

"This should not be a political issue," Brauchler said. "This is about the integrity of voting for everybody."

The two suspected of illegally voting are Tadesse Degefa, a 72-year-old man from Ethiopia, and Vitaliy Grabchenko, a 47-year-old man from Poland. Neither immediately responded to phone messages.

The canvassers who were charged are Michael Michealis, 41, and Carl Blocker, 51. Phone numbers for them could not be found.

The four are charged with procuring false registration, a misdemeanor, and have court dates in January.

Gessler said the "news further confirms that there is a vulnerability in the system."

Other district attorneys, however, have not filed charges based on Gessler's referrals. Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett, a Democrat, told the Daily Camera newspaper in August that Gessler's efforts were a waste of resources and politically motivated. Garnett's office investigated the 17 people Gessler referred to his county and found that each voter was a U.S. citizen.

"We don't need state officials sending us on wild goose chases for political reasons," he said at the time.

Denver County, which had 32 referrals, and Jefferson County, which had 16, also did not pursue charges. Denver prosecutors said they didn't have enough information to pursue an investigation.

Jefferson County found that four voters were U.S. citizens, six cases were outside the statute of limitations, and another six were legal residents, but not citizens and thus ineligible to vote. In those six cases, the people Jefferson County officials were able to locate said they thought they had a right to vote. However, prosecutors said they didn't think they could obtain convictions and issued letters of admonition to the individuals instead of pursuing charges.

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