DENVER–A sweeping elections bill signed Friday by Gov. John Hickenlooper makes it easier to vote in Colorado, and that could be a problem, say critics.
Everyone agrees that the Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act will increase participation by sending every registered voter a ballot and allowing same-day registration at voting centers, which will consolidate and replace the current precinct-polling system.
But Republicans say the system also encourages illegal voting. Secretary of State Scott Gessler issued a blistering statement immediately after the bill-signing, saying the changes could cause a surge in voter fraud in a state that has traditionally enjoyed clean elections and robust voter participation.
“Unfortunately, today the governor rubber-stamped the agenda of partisan, special interests at the capitol,” said Gessler. “Most Coloradans are asking themselves why would the governor want to change a system that produced the third highest turnout in the country and better election integrity than ever before.”
No Republicans voted for the legislation, which was drawn up by Democrats, some county clerks, and interest groups like Common Cause without the input of Gessler, the state’s chief elections officer.
“Our voters demand integrity in our elections and I’m determined to stand up for them. Though this bill undercuts our election integrity efforts, we owe it to Coloradans to do the best job possible,” said Gessler. “Voters shouldn’t be concerned their votes will be cancelled by an ineligible vote. I will work to make it easy to vote but tough to cheat.”
Under the newly signed law, would-be voters may receive a ballot on Election Day by producing a utility bill as identification. Democrats rejected efforts to require photo I.D., but Republicans said the thin I.D. requirement means that cheaters will be able to get away with casting multiple ballots.
Those who forget their mail-in ballot may receive a new ballot at the voting service centers on Election Day. Under the current system, citizens must register 29 days before an election, which allows county clerks to check their residency and eligibility.
Colorado Democratic Party chair Rick Palacio issued a statement Friday praising the elections overhaul, saying “we should be proud that our state continues to be a leader in allowing access to the ballot and modernizing elections.”
“The end result is that more eligible Colorado voters will participate in our elections, and that’s a win for our democratic process,” said Palacio.
Democrats said the system will save counties $9.5 million per election, although Gessler said several counties, including Arapahoe, El Paso and Elbert, will see their elections costs rise.
Hickenlooper also signed a bill, sponsored by state Rep. Jonathan Singer (D-Longmont), that will allow 16-year-olds to pre-register to vote.
Former Colorado Republican Party chair Dick Wadhams said any uptick in voter fraud will have a bigger impact on local races, such as county and legislative elections, than on statewide races, in which participation is higher.
“What’s fascinating is to hear Democratic legislators say, ‘The potential for fraud isn’t that great,’” said Wadhams. “Well, what level of fraud is tolerable?”
Analysts say voter fraud tends to favor Democratic candidates, whose constituencies include groups such as labor unions with a history of ballot-stuffing, while lower participation tends to favor Republicans.
“They [Democrats] know what they’re doing. They’re trying to get more people to vote in a way that’s going to create a huge potential for fraud,” said Wadhams. “We really haven’t had a tradition of vote-stealing in Colorado, but this certainly could set the stage.”
Colorado becomes the third state, after Oregon and Washington, to move to an all-mail voting system. Ten states and the District of Columbia have approved same-day voter registration, said Wendy Underhill, senior policy specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver.