Don't blame new law for disenfranchised voters

By: Kristy Milligan
September 18, 2013 Updated: September 18, 2013 at 12:34 pm
photo - Kristy Milligan
Kristy Milligan  

Don't let Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler fool you. In an opinion piece that ran in The Gazette on Monday, Sept. 9, he condemned the recently passed Colorado Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act (HB1303) as the primary source of the confusion surrounding the recall elections in Colorado Springs and Pueblo.

As a local organization devoted to promoting civic engagement through education and protecting civic rights through policy, Citizens Project supported this bill. We weren't alone.

County clerks across the state joined us in supporting the bill. Indeed, it was the Clerks Association that pushed to move the implementation up to 2013. Gessler, along with El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Wayne Williams, was one of a few election administration officials who actively opposed the measure. So it's no surprise that he wants to blame HB1303 for all that ails El Paso County in the recall election.

We say, not so fast. Not so fast to jump to conclusions and forget what's ailed El Paso County in the past, what we know about our local elections, and what we know about this HB1303.

One of the primary byproducts of the act was, as Gessler noted, to create service centers - full-service voting sites. In the last election in El Paso County, most of the polling locations already met the specifications of Service Centers. Indeed, it's precisely because clerks were trending toward these sites and because of the conveniences they offer to voters that this provision was included.

Colorado is one of 12 states that also enables voters to modify their registration or register through election day at one of these centers, eliminating the need for multiple trips by voters to accomplish these changes under the prior law.

There was also a provision requiring mail ballots and ensuring that voters remain on the permanent-vote-by-mail list unless they elected to be removed. Again, this is not an imposition in a county in which nearly 75 percent of voters cast their ballots by mail in the 2012 general election, and Wayne Williams himself has repeatedly indicated a preference for all-mail elections.

Additionally, the law eliminated the "inactive-failed-to-vote" category, ensuring that voters who miss an election may still participate by mail in subsequent elections. Maybe Gessler is forgetting all the confusion that ensued in El Paso County around the "IFTV" category in 2011, but we haven't.

For Citizens Project, HB1303 was a common-sense proposal that addressed real problems in our region and supports existing trends in voting.

Is it possible that Gessler is conflating the impacts of HB1303 with the necessarily truncated timeline of this unprecedented recall election? Indeed, most of the legal challenges that have interfered with the process have stemmed from issues that fall outside the scope of HB1303.

Opponents would rather have us believe that HB1303 is what ails us, but it's simply not the truth. Disenfranchised and disaffected voters is what ails us, and HB1303 made great strides in increasing access to the ballot box based on real issues in the state.

We can't rely on hyperbole and media stunts to authenticate claims that HB1303 is what ails us. As Gessler noted, high volume is expected at the polls - a sign that civic engagement is alive and well. Could it be that the Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act made it easier for voters to make their voices heard at the ballot box, even despite a rapidly shifting electoral landscape? With the election behind us, we invite you to draw your own conclusion.


Kristy Milligan is the executive director of Citizens Project.

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