County clerk discounts voter fraud allegations

Jon Caldara, president of the conservative think tank Independence Institute in Boulder, Colo., Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, casts a vote in the State Senate District 11 recall election at the El Paso County Citizen Service Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. Caldara attested that he lives in Colorado Springs in a sworn affidavit to vote in the election. (AP Photo/The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

As voters continued to cast ballots early in the recall election Saturday, questions swirled about voter fraud and ballot box stuffing.

The fears are, so far, unfounded.

Although Jon Caldara, president of the think tank Independence Institute, cast a blank ballot in the election Saturday to prove a point that 'gypsy voting' is very real.

Caldara lives in Boulder but attested a Colorado Springs address was his permanent residence in a sworn affidavit.

"It is easy to move voters around," Caldara said Saturday morning after casting a ballot he left blank at the Garden of the Gods voting center. "The whole purpose of this was to finally show what I think and I speculate happens often, that people come and use this same-day voter registration to move voters around."

Yet El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Wayne Williams said very few, if any, voters have exercised the rights granted by the new law.

"The person has to provide an address, that address has to match and then they have to say that is their sole place of residence," Williams said. "The law requires that we give them a regular ballot."

Such were the latest ripples in the pond of a recall election that has attracted nationwide interest, pitting the two sides of the gun rights debate against each other. It will all be over Tuesday night when the final results are tabulated.

A total of 2,328 ballots were cast Saturday, bringing the total number of votes so far to 9,485. Of those, 3,923 were cast by Republicans, 3,081 by Democrats and 2,351 by unaffiliated voters.

There are about 69,000 registered voters in Senate District 11.

Caldara was registered to vote but was trying to show that voters could be shipped in from anywhere and use a new same-day voter registration law to vote in an election legally.

Caldara's action was criticized by an activist from the other side of the political spectrum.

"It's a little bit hypocritical in my mind that he would commit voter fraud to prove a point about an election law," said Amy Runyon-Harms, executive director of Progress Now. "Conservatives too often rely on the tactic of totally unfounded fear and that seems wrong in a democracy."

Runyon-Harms clarified that the new election law does not change the definition of "residence" but only changes the time frame that a person must live in a place to be a qualified voter.

"[House Bill] 1303 does nothing other than expand the opportunity for people to cast their ballot," she said.

Lawmakers passedHB1303 during the 2013 legislative session in an effort to improve voter participation. It required mail ballots be sent to every voter and that instead of precincts, voter service centers would be open where people could register to vote or change their address through election day. Previously, voters had a 29-day window to register before elections, among the longest blackout periods in the nation.

The new law is getting its first trial run during the recall elections in Pueblo and El Paso counties. Sen. John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, and Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, are facing recall elections where voters will decide whether to keep them in office or oust them over gun laws they supported last session.

Republican Bernie Herpin is a candidate to replace Morse and George Rivera, a Republican, aims to replace Giron.

Williams said it's a felony to lie on the sworn affidavit, a crime his office will pursue and prosecute.

Investigations will occur after the fact, however, when the ballot is counted in the election results.

"It comes down to their honor and their willingness to risk possible criminal prosecution," Williams said. "One of the key problems with the law is it is a prosecute-afterwards not prevent-ahead of time."

Caldara said he has a week-to-week lease for a room in a house at 2045 Broman Ct. That house is owned by Mark Barker, according to El Paso County property records. Barker served in the Colorado House in 2011 and 2012.

Caldara said he "intends" to move permanently to that address - intent is a part of the legal requirement for establishing residency and could be a legal defense in court if he is charged with voter fraud.

While mail ballots were not sent out in this election - a court ordered time frame for candidates to get their names on the ballot made it impossible - same-day voter registration could have a huge impact.

Morse and Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., were at Colorado College on Friday urging students who have lived in Colorado for 22 days to vote and if they hadn't registered, to go register and then vote. The closest voting center is several blocks away and after burgers outside the Worner Campus Center, students walked down to vote.

Brad Bachman, co-chair of the Colorado College Democrats, said the group has been holding 'dorm storms' to talk to students about the importance of keeping Morse in office.

Bachman, a 21-year-old senior, said getting the student vote out will be difficult because school just began and students are still getting settled.

Colorado College is within Morse's district, so students living there can register to vote in the election. It's a point that irks some who fear the liberal arts college will sway the election.

"We are residents here," Bachman said. "I've lived here for four years. That's one-fifth of my life and the most important part of my life."

El Paso County Commissioner Peggy Littleton took issue with Colorado College students who she said were dropping off 10 ballots at a time last week at early voting centers.

"Initially, it concerned me because they were bringing in several ballots for each person," said Littleton, who confronted the students about it.

But under the law, a person is allowed to drop off up to 10 ballots.

Voters in this election had to fill out a special form if they wanted absentee ballots, and there was a fairly short window to request the ballots in. But in all 1,459 ballots were sent out, including those for overseas military members, emergency ballots and those for absentee voters.

Those ballots can be mailed in or dropped off at voter centers.

"I wasn't trying to imply they were doing anything illegal," Littleton said, who appeared on an Internet video criticizing the practice. "I just thought it was odd."

Contact Megan Schrader


Twitter: @CapitolSchrader

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