DENVER—Secretary of State Scott Gessler has a demonstrated knack for unearthing illegal voters and infuriating his critics.
Both were on display last week when an open-records request filed by Gessler with jails in 10 of Colorado’s largest counties revealed at least 85 registered voters who are non-citizens.
About a third of those had cast ballots in the 2010 election, according to Gessler’s office.
The finding appears to bolster the argument that Colorado has a legitimate voter-fraud problem. This year alone, Gessler has announced the discovery of about 5,000 illegal voters, some of whom may have since become citizens, and released examples of redacted letters from another 430 non-citizen voters asking to be removed from the state’s voter rolls.
Still, Gessler’s adversaries, including the Colorado Democratic Party and Colorado Common Cause, continue to criticize the Republican elections chief for using his office to ferret out illegal voters, insisting that the problem isn’t big enough to justify his efforts.
“I just don’t think those few instances are worth all this,” said Grace Ramirez, executive director of the Colorado chapter of Mi Familia Vota, which seeks to increase Latino voter participation. “He hasn’t really found any fraud, just people who might not be citizens.”
Ramirez pointed out that the 85 registered voters recently flagged as illegal immigrants may have since become citizens and thus eligible to vote.
“Even though he’s found 85 people and about half of them actually voted, I just feel like those folks may already have become citizens,” said Ramirez. “They may be legal voters. You only have to be a legal resident for five years before becoming a citizen. A lot can happen in that time, and I feel that to use all these government resources for this is a waste of money.”
Gessler spokesman Andrew Cole disagreed, arguing out that ensuring clean elections are part of the secretary of state’s job description.
“It’s surprising that anyone would think the chief election official for the state should not be making all possible efforts to ensure the integrity of our elections,” said Cole in an email. “These are exactly the kind of simple steps we should be taking to make sure that only eligible people are registered and voting in Colorado.”
He noted that Gessler has attempted to separate the legal from the illegal voters by contacting the Homeland Security Department to find out if any have since become U.S. citizens. The agency has for the past year declined to run the names through its database, prompting Attorney General John Suthers to fire off a letter last week insisting on the department’s help.
Suthers asked the agency to agree to a voter-verification process outlined in a proposed memorandum of understanding by July 20. Under federal law, the checks would need to be completed by Aug. 8 in order to update the voter rolls in time the Nov. 6 election.
Gessler plans to send the information from the jail screening to Homeland Security in order to enhance his chances of gaining access to the database. His office requested the names of anyone held on an immigration detainer since 2010 from the following counties: Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Denver, Douglas, El Paso, Jefferson, Pueblo, Mesa and Weld.
Ramirez argued the secretary’s time would be better spent expanding access to the ballot box, such as by registering new voters and offering more materials in languages other than English.
Even if Gessler gains access to the federal database, his critics say the possibility for error still exists. For example, he could inadvertently remove the names of recently sworn-in citizens whose status has not yet been updated in the federal system, said Elena Nunez, executive director of Colorado Common Cause.
“Until we see there’s evidence of a problem, I don’t think we want to risk disenfranchising voters,” said Nunez.