Updated: August 25, 2013 at 11:37 am
A politically polarizing new election law will get its first test run during the Sept. 10 recall elections in Pueblo and Colorado Springs.
Same-day voter registration became mandatory with an elections overhaul bill that was signed into law in May.
Democrats say allowing voters to register on election day provides greater access to the polls; Republicans say it will lead to rampant election fraud.
It's a debate being played out across the nation this year as states weigh the issue.
The new law - HB1303 - will get its first test run during elections that are historic for being the first recall elections of state-level officials in Colorado.
Voters will decide in two weeks whether to keep Sen. John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, and Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, in office.
Residents upset over gun laws passed into law during the 2013 session signed petitions over the summer to force the recall elections of the two lawmakers who supported the measures.
New challenges, laws
The elections will be relatively small - only those living within each senator's district will be able to vote - but made complicated by legal challenges and new laws.
"Because there's no opportunity to review registrations and to catch potential fraudulent submissions ahead of time, there is a very real risk under same-day registration that individuals will be able to commit voter fraud," said Wayne Williams, the Republican clerk and recorder for El Paso County.
In Pueblo County, the Democratic clerk and recorder has a different view.
"I think that it's going to work," Gilbert Ortiz said. "It gives voters more access to voting . with technology the way that we have it now, with the statewide voter registration system, I believe that we were capable of making access better of our voters."
On election day, residents of Senate District 11 in Colorado Springs and Senate District 3 in Pueblo will be able to walk into the polling centers, show proof of identification, sign a sworn affidavit that they are providing true information such as date of birth, Social Security number and place of residence and then vote in the election.
Ortiz said Colorado driver's licenses will be checked immediately in the statewide voter registration system to ensure a person registering hasn't registered to vote twice or cast a ballot.
"I think the law is a deterrent itself," Ortiz said, adding his county has experienced few issues with voter fraud. "It's a class 6 felony to commit voter fraud, and so I think that's a deterrent."
Williams said voter fraud is happening under current laws - and without the 29-day window to evaluate registrations, many issues would not get caught until after a ballot has been counted.
Williams is working with the District Attorney's Office to press charges against a man who registered five times during the last presidential election using a fake name, random birth dates and sequential Social Security numbers. Under same-day registration, that wouldn't have been caught until it was too late, Williams said.
Where the real issue lies is when voters register without a Colorado driver's license, Williams said.
Voters who use a license to register can be tracked in the statewide voter system, while those who use alternative forms of identification such as out-of-state licenses or a utility bill will not be traceable in that system, he said.
Details were still being worked out Friday with the Secretary of State's Office about how same-day registration would work and whether those without a valid Colorado license would be able to cast regular ballots as opposed to provisional ballots that aren't counted without further verification.
Ten states, including Colorado, allow same-day registration.
But 2013 was an active year for the same-day registration debate, said Wendy Underhill, a senior policy specialist with the National Conference of State Legislatures who studies the issue.
"There's action in both directions," Underhill said, noting while some states are moving toward the policy, others are moving away.
Legislation proposing same-day voter registration was introduced in 17 states during 2013, and only in Colorado was it successful.
Several states are considering the bills that were carried over to the 2014 legislative session, but six states killed the legislation.
In Montana, voters will decide in November whether to repeal the same-day voter registration the state has had since 2005.
The bill sending the issue to voters in a referendum was split along party lines with Republicans pushing to do away with a system they say created confusion and long lines during the presidential election. Democrats, including the governor who vetoed a repeal without a public vote, opposed it as a roadblock to voters.
According to the Montana Secretary of State's Office, more than 28,000 Montanans have registered and voted on election day since the law's inception.
Fraud and abuse
Underhill said there's no real study out there to see how these laws are connected to voter fraud.
"I think part of the problem there is fraud that gets caught is uncommon," Underhill said. "I don't mean to suggest it doesn't exist, but there isn't a lot of good research about fraud by voters."
Typically, voters who register on election day must not only provide proof of identification but also proof of address, which is an additional step toward preventing fraud, she said.
Colorado's new law only requires one of those elements from registering voters.
Williams said he is concerned that those coming in without a license can easily forge their alternate form of identification.
Underhill said that in most states, a second verification is conducted after the election to ensure a person lives where he or she claimed by sending out an unforwardable piece of mail that if returned to the elections department signals the need for further investigation.
Contact Megan Schrader: 719-286-0644
SAME-DAY VOTER REGISTRATION
Ten states and the District of Columbia offer voter registration on election day. Most other states require registration 10 to 30 days before the election. Voters in Montana will decide whether to keep same-day voter registration in a November referendum.
District of Columbia 2010
New Hampshire 1996
Source: National Conference of State Legislators