Updated: February 5, 2014 at 9:42 pm
Democrats are trying to fix parts of last year's election reform law that have caused headaches for city, school district and special district elections, while Republicans are trying to quash what they say is a bill full of loopholes inviting voter fraud.
House Bill 1164 seeks to correct some issues with last year's voter fraud modernization act, HB 1303, which changed state laws to allow same-day voter registration, an all mail ballot system and centralized voter service centers in place of traditional neighborhood precincts.
HB 1164 passed the House with 37 yes votes and 25 no votes last week. Republicans opposed the bill despite the fact it was originally introduced with GOP co-authors a few days earlier.
"It's filled with a toxic blend of bad ideas and unintended consequences," said Sen. Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, said as he pledged to introduce a bill that would resolve the issues for special districts and municipalities by delaying implementation of the election reform law - House Bill 1303 from 2013 - for two years.
"If this bill isn't passed, there's a real question about how special districts are going to be able to conduct their elections in May," said Even Goulding, a consultant for the Special District Association of Colorado.
There are about 1,900 local election districts in Colorado, everything from municipalities and school districts to wastewater treatment plants and fire districts. And those entities are responsible for holding their own non-partisan elections under a separate set of laws from state rules.
Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, D-Denver, said those were policy decisions made last year and his bill is simply clearing up the impact the legislation had.
"I think the manufactured crisis we heard from testimony is just that, manufactured, and it doesn't speak to the larger issue that folks should be allowed to cast a ballot where they live," Ulibarri said. "This is a good bill. It's necessary."
One of the most prominent unintended consequences of HB 1303 had to do with the conflict between how long a voter must live in the state before voting in elections and separate rules for how long voters must live in school districts, municipalities and special districts before voting.
Under state law a person must live in Colorado for 22 days before being able to vote in an election, but in school district, city and special district elections that requirement varies, meaning in some areas a person could be permitted to cast a ballot on state issues but not on local issues
It became a real problem in Broomfield in November when questions were raised about newly registered voters who cast ballots in both state questions - like the Amendment 66 income tax increase - and local issues - like a fracking ban in Broomfield. Voters had met the state residency requirements, but questions loom over which voters met local residency requirements for the fracking ban.
HB 1164 would require minimum residency requirements for every election, so there wouldn't be a conflict.
Jefferson County Clerk and Recorder Pam Anderson told lawmakers in the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee Wednesday that aligning eligibility requirements will also reduce voter confusion about where they can vote, when.
Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, said the bill does much more than that. He said it will open special districts up to voter fraud.
Harvey used the example of Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute fraudulently voting in the Colorado Springs recall election despite the fact that Boulder is his home and had been leading up to the election and after the election.
Caldara signed a lease for a room in Colorado Springs that ran through the election, which made it difficult for the Attorney General to prosecute.
"That's how you stop people from committing fraud, you prosecute them, and that didn't happen here, and I'm disappointed in that," Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, said. "For me this is about enfranchising people."
The final vote in committee was a 3-2 party-line vote.
Contact Megan Schrader