DENVER—Colorado Democrats are divided on whether to try and stop “gypsy voters” from casting fraudulent votes in the recall election.
In one camp: House Democrats, who have attacked Secretary of State Scott Gessler for trying to clean up residency requirements in his rulemaking on House Bill 1303, the Voter Access and Modernized Election Act, which makes it easier for out-of-district voters to cast ballots in local races.
House Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst (D-Boulder) called the rules “deeply troubling” in a Monday press release, while Assistant Majority Leader Dan Pabon (D-Denver) accused Gessler of trying to discourage voters from casting ballots.
“If I were trying to explain how voter suppression works, this would be it,” said Pabon.
In the other camp: Democratic Party officials, including state Sen. Angela Giron, the bill’s Senate sponsor, who have asked Gessler to clarify the newly passed election law with rules tightening the residency requirement.
In an interview Tuesday with KOA-AM’s Mike Rosen, Gessler said he’s getting mixed messages from Democrats.
“The Democratic Party attorney, a woman named Martha Tierney, and one of the sponsors of the bill, Angela Giron, who’s facing a recall election right now, they literally begged us to write a rule to clarify this because they were getting criticized because it was such a bad bill, that they worried about what’s now being called gypsy voters,” said Gessler.
“So we passed this rule, and I guess a couple of the other Democrats didn’t quite get the talking points, so they fell back on their normal criticism,” he said. “But if you actually look at the rule, it’s pretty straightforward.”
The rules don’t replace legislation, but they can clear up confusion when a bill’s language is unclear or contradictory. The Secretary of State’s office issued rules Friday on the newly passed elections law after weeks of hearings and testimony.
“It was really sort of a vote fraud law, to be frank,” said Gessler. “There are a lot of people who are very concerned that you don’t even have to live in the district to vote. You just say you intend to live in the district. You don’t need to [prove it].”
The new residency rule says that a voter is “likely” not an eligible voter if he or she is a military member “who is stationed in Colorado but who maintains a primary residence in another state,” or “an out-of-state student attending college in Colorado but has no intent to make Colorado his or her permanent home.”
“Intent to move, in and of itself, does not establish residence. And neither a business nor a temporary hotel room is a valid residence,” says the rule.
The residency issue has become a focal point in the recall election because the new election law only requires voters to live in the state of Colorado for 22 days before casting ballots. The law also ushers in same-day voter registration, meaning that the county clerks have no time to verify a voter’s residence before that person casts a ballot.
There are both military personnel and college students living in and near Senate District 11, the seat of state Sen. John Morse, who’s one of two Democrats targeted for recall over the legislature’s newly approved gun-control legislation.
What if a college student from, say, Michigan, shows up on Election Day and declares his or her intent to live in Senate District 11?
“There’s nothing to prevent them [from voting],” said Gessler in response to a question from Rosen. “We would have to do an investigation and that’s awfully difficult. It’s ultimately a loose honor system that we’re relying upon that usually works, but frankly sometimes it has spectacular failures.”
Before H.B. 1303, voters were required to register to vote 29 days before an election, giving the county clerks almost a month to verify the voters’ eligibility and residency.
“We have no way of verifying any of this stuff. We used to,” said Gessler. “What we used to do is we used to have a little bit of a check when people had to register 29 days in advance. We would send them mail, the clerks would send them a piece of mail, and if the mail got bounced back, they weren’t registered. But now we don’t even have that.”
El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Wayne Williams, who’s running the Morse recall election, says he will try to verify the residency of out-of-district voters who say they “intend” to live in the district and refer any outliers to the district attorney.
Gessler dismissed the criticism from House Democrats, saying Pabon “just missed his talking points.”
“We’re committed to making this [recall] election work,” said Gessler. “It’s unfortunate you get these people who write a horrible bill, a confused mess, and they just stick with their demagogic talking points. It’s very frustrating and it’s hard to create good elections when you have people behaving this way.”