DENVER—Let’s say you live in Boulder, but you really want to vote in the Sept. 10 recall election of Senate President John Morse in Colorado Springs.
Impossible? Under Colorado’s new election law, maybe not. Just show up at a Voter Service and Polling Center in Colorado Springs on or before Election Day, and tell the staffers that you intend to move to Morse’s Senate District 11.
As long as you’ve lived somewhere in Colorado for the past 22 days—even if you don’t actually live in the district—there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to cast a ballot, said Douglas County Clerk and Recorder Jack Arrowsmith.
Under the newly passed Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act, “the only residency requirement for voters is that they have to live anywhere in Colorado for the last 22 days,” said Arrowsmith, now serving his seventh year as county clerk. “It poses some interesting questions.”
What’s more, even if you never move to Senate District 11, you haven’t actually committed a crime under the new law, as long as you vote only once per election, he said.
“Without further clarification from the Secretary of State’s rulemaking, I don’t believe any law would be broken,” said Arrowsmith, whose office is not involved in the upcoming recall elections.
If Arrowsmith is correct and so-called “gypsy voters” can cast ballots anywhere in the state, the implications for the recall election could be enormous. Both Morse and state Sen. Angela Giron (D-Pueblo) are faced with being recalled from office in the Sept. 10 special election.
The election is the only game in town on that date, meaning that voters in other jurisdictions wouldn’t be missing the chance to vote for their own local officials if they cast ballots in Colorado Springs and Pueblo.
As a result, it’s not hard to envision a situation in which the election turns into a statewide free-for-all, with Democrats busing in anti-recall voters from Denver and Boulder while Republicans truck in pro-recall voters from Parker and Greeley.
Andrew Cole, spokesman for Secretary of State Scott Gessler, said the secretary will address concerns surrounding the new election law in his rulemaking, but that the rules are not expected to be finalized by Sept. 10. Proposed rules were released Friday, and comments are due by Aug. 7.
“They [legislators] basically rewrote the entire elections code, so we have to redo all our election rules,” said Cole.
In the meantime, state elections experts are divided on what the law says. Pueblo County Clerk and Recorder Gilbert Ortiz said that voters must show that they reside in the district in which they vote, and that there are ways to make sure that the votes of outsiders don’t count.
“If they say, ‘I still want to vote,’ we give them a provisional ballot and allow them to vote, but then we review it after the election and if they didn’t live in the district on Election Day, we don’t count their ballot,” said Ortiz.
But Ryan Parsell, spokesman for El Paso County Clerk Wayne Williams, said there’s no way to verify if someone who says he or she plans to move into the district will actually do so.
“There’s nothing about H.B. 1303 that gives us the ability to follow up and see if they’ve moved into the district,” said Parsell.
Support for the “gypsy voter” theory can be traced to page 10 of H.B. 1303. Under “qualifications for registration,” the bill changes the previous language by shortening the residency requirement from 30 to 22 days before an election.
But the new law also eliminates the requirement for would-be voters to live in the precinct in which they intend to vote. The law now says that an eligible voter “has resided in this state twenty-two days immediately prior to the election at which the person intends to vote” (emphasis added).
In addition, the old law said anyone who moved outside a county or precinct was no longer considered a resident of that precinct after 30 days, and therefore could not vote in local elections.
The new law states that, “If a person moves from one county or precinct in this state to another with the intention of making the new county or precinct a permanent residence, the person is considered to have residence in the county or precinct to which the person moved” (emphasis added).
As Arrowsmith sees it, that means anyone who says they intend to move to a county or precinct, even if they never do, should receive a ballot. Given that the law also allows same-day voter registration, election officials have no window in which to verify whether the voter actually resides in the district.
Arrowsmith, a Republican, testified against H.B. 1303, which was written by Democrats and some county clerks without the involvement of Gessler’s office. Giron sponsored the measure in the Senate, and the bill won final approval despite GOP opposition in May, after the recall drives were launched in March.
Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the bill May 10. He set the recall election date earlier this month after two appeals filed by attorneys for Giron and Morse constituents were rejected. The recall is the first in Colorado history for any elected state official.