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El Paso County, state election offices hearing from voters fearful of Trump commission

July 13, 2017 Updated: July 15, 2017 at 10:20 am
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A few hundred El Paso County residents expunged their voter registration information or made it confidential after a newly-formed federal commission asked state elections officials for the records last month, according to the county Clerk and Recorder's Office.

The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, established by President Donald Trump in May to determine if voter fraud is going undetected, has asked that states hand over personal voter data.

Since then, at least 202 El Paso County voters have withdrawn their registrations, up from the 54 in the two weeks prior to the commission's request. As of Wednesday, another 62 had opted to become "confidential voters" - a status held by about 1 percent of El Paso County's roughly 443,000 voters.

In the two weeks before the federal commission asked states for the information on June 28, no county voters requested confidentiality

Statewide, 3,394 voters have pulled their registrations since the commission's request, according to numbers provided by the Secretary of State's Office on Thursday. Another 182 Colorado voters became confidential during the two-week period.

Critics have questioned the motive of Trump's commission, noting the president has claimed - without evidence - that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election, costing him the popular vote won by Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Voter information that would otherwise be a public record can only be kept confidential if the person claims that disclosing it would put their life in jeopardy.

Under Colorado law, basic voter registration records are available to anyone who asks - regardless of how they intend to use the information. Publicly-available information includes a voter's full name, address, party affiliation, date of affiliation, gender identity, birth year and phone number, if the voter provided one when registering. Whether a person voted in past elections is also public record, although who or what they voted for is not.

To make the public information confidential, a voter must pay a $5 fee and sign a form swearing under the penalty of perjury that they "have reason to believe" they or a family member in their household "will be exposed to criminal harassment, or otherwise be in danger of bodily harm," if their address is made public. The county Clerk and Recorder's Office does not deny voter requests to become confidential or investigate whether the claim that they are at risk is true, said Mattie Albert, a spokeswoman for the office.

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams said he would comply with the commission's request, but clarified that voter information considered confidential would not be provided. According to media reports, Colorado was among states that said it would partially comply with the federal commission's request. The commission has since put the request on hold until a court can hear a challenge to the constitutionality of what it is asking the state to provide.

"The concern people have expressed is that their voter registration information will be made public," Albert said in an email when asked if any of the callers have indicated their anxiety stems from the commission's request.

County officials do not require voters to provide a reason when they pull their registration.

"Because we don't ask, we don't want to speculate," Albert said.

In general, voters are advised to cancel their registration before moving to a new county and re-register when they are in their new residence, Albert said.

Voter registration information is routinely released to candidates, special districts, local governments, political parties, interest groups and anyone else who wants it. Since the beginning of 2016, the Clerk and Recorder's Office has received 95 requests for public voter records - not including requests from those seeking lists of who was sent a ballot and who returned a ballot during an election cycle, Albert said. The office charges $25 for a basic report of voter information and $50 for a custom report, tailored to the informational needs of the requester.

Since June 29, Williams' office has received more than 1,000 calls and emails from voters - many of them fearful of how the Trump administration might use their registration information and surprised that it was publicly available, said Lynn Bartels, a spokeswoman for Williams' office.

"If the legal challenge fails, and they re-ask for the information, we will send it to them," Bartels said of the federal commission. "Our secretary of state does not believe that you can pick and choose who to give that information to."

The sudden surge in withdrawals is consistent with trends in other parts of the state. As of Tuesday, at least 472 voters in Denver had canceled their registrations since July 3, compared with 20 people who canceled in the previous two weeks, according to the Denver elections division. In Boulder County, 125 voters pulled their registrations within the first 10 days of July, up from 15 people who withdrew during the same span in June.

The Denver Post contributed to this report.

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Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108

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