DENVER – As the 2012 elections draw closer, Colorado politicians are gearing up to fight for every last vote in this battleground state; but, as a series of letters written to Secretary of State Scott Gessler reveal, many registered Colorado voters are not U.S. citizens.
Though Gessler has tried to solve this problem by appealing to the Colorado legislature and the Department of Homeland Security to enact measures to safeguard voter integrity, he has had little success.
Federal law states that only U.S. citizens may register to vote. However, the names of many non-citizens have made it on to Colorado’s voter rolls.
The growing problem may be a result of voter registrations processed by the Department of Motor Vehicles, where non-citizen immigrants with work visas or green cards can receive a driver’s license or photo I.D. at the DMV just as U.S. citizens can.
Gessler’s office suspects that thousands of non-citizens may have filled out voter registration papers after obtaining other identity documents.
Strangely, many of these immigrants do not know they are ineligible to vote.
Kelly Maher, owner of the website revealingpolitics.com, recently submitted an open records request to Gessler’s office requesting letters from people who asked to be removed from the voter rolls.
The letters, which are posted on her site, show that many non-citizens registered to vote at the DMV. In their correspondence, these immigrants explained that they did not know they were ineligible to vote and requested to be taken off the voter rolls.
“I am a Legal Resident only, but the moment that I become an American Citizen I would register to vote,” one of the letters states, “Until then I would like to clarify that I have never registered to vote and I would like to clear my record of such voter registration.” Another says that “I didn’t know I couldn’t vote or be registered to vote. I’m in need of your approval to grant my request. I am sorry about what I did.”
The letters are just one piece of evidence.
According to Richard Coolidge, spokesman for Secretary Gessler, some ineligible registrations were identified through statewide voter registration. Introduced in 2008, statewide voter registration makes it easy for the government to keep track of registered voters.
Before this new type of registration, each county kept a list of all its registered voters. The counties then sent their lists to the state government, which had to comb through the lists looking for errors. Now, voting records move with voters from county to county, making it easier for the state government to find out just who is registered to vote.
According to a recent report in the Denver Post, records suggest that 4,500 people obtained driver’s licenses in Colorado using documents like alien registration or “green cards” and registered to vote – and that thousands of those people have cast ballots.
The release of the letters by Maher has reignited fresh concerns about voter fraud.
Polls show President Obama and his GOP rival Mitt Romney separated by only a few percentage points in key swing states like Colorado, and that leaves many observers concerned that even a few fraudulently cast votes could make all the difference in the election outcome.
“In the current political climate of narrow margins, Coloradans cannot afford for any illegal ballots to be cast,” Maher said.
Despite widespread concerns, however, legislative attempts at enacting safeguards to prevent fraudulent registration and voting have stalled, largely thanks to opposition from state Democrats, who argue that voter verification requirements will somehow prevent eligible U.S. citizen voters from casting ballots.
Gessler’s office has floated a number of proposals to address the concerns, including one measure that would have required potential voters to provide proof of citizenship before registering, and another that would allow the Secretary of State’s office to use back-end verification to confirm a voter’s citizenship after they have registered.
Both pieces of legislation were voted-down in the Democrat-controlled State Senate.
Gessler is currently attempting to work with the Obama Administration’s Department of Homeland Security to acquire a list of U.S. citizens, but Coolidge says the process has been “very time-consuming.”
Still, efforts to verify voters’ citizenship will not stop. And for his part, Gessler says he remains committed to ensuring that all registered voters in Colorado are U.S. citizens.
“There’s very few things [required] to be a registered voter in the U.S.,” said Coolidge, “…Citizenship is the one thing we don’t verify. That seems odd.”