COLO. SPRINGS—At least one gypsy voter cast a ballot Saturday in the recall election of Senate President John Morse.
Longtime Boulder resident Jon Caldara declared it was his intention to live in District 11 in Colorado Springs, provided an address, signed an affidavit—and then received a ballot. For the record, he didn’t mark it.
“I went in there and voted a blank ballot to make sure there was no distraction from the point of this, which is how easy it is to move around voters to different districts where they’re needed,” said Caldara, president of the Independence Institute. “The big question was, ‘Can I get a ballot?’ And the answer is, ‘Yes, I can, and it’s perfectly legal.’”
He was immediately accused of voter fraud by Amy Runyon-Harms, executive director of ProgressNow Colorado, who issued a statement calling on El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Wayne Williams to refer the incident to the district attorney “for prosecution as a felony crime.”
“Jon Caldara has gone too far this time,” said Runyon-Harms. “It’s unclear who Caldara is getting his advice from, but Colorado election law is crystal-clear: giving false information regarding one’s residence to vote is a felony.”
Caldara countered by accusing her of trying to intimidate voters. “These attempts at voter intimidation are repugnant, and they’re also illegal,” he said.
Caldara’s argument is that the newly enacted Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act, approved by Democrats with no Republican votes, allows Colorado voters who live in one district to cast ballots in another simply by affirming their intent to move to the district.
When he cast his blank ballot, Caldara says he intended to make Colorado Springs his permanent home. He’s renting a room from a friend, former state Rep. Mark Barker, who lives in District 11, while maintaining his house in Boulder.
“This is now my permanent home,” said Caldara after leaving the Garden of the Gods voter service center. “Having lived so many years in Boulder, I’m really excited to check out my new town.”
Ryan Parsell, spokesman for the El Paso County Clerk, said the office would refer any “suspicious activity” to the district attorney after the election, but declined to speculate on the Caldara episode.
Williams told the Colorado Springs Gazette that the new election law doesn’t give his office many options when it comes to newly arrived voters.
“The person has to provide an address, that address has to match and then they have to say that is their sole place of residence,” Williams said. “The law requires that we give them a regular ballot.”
Even if Caldara is determined later to have broken the law, Williams said his ballot cannot be removed from the system.
“It comes down to their honor and their willingness to risk possible criminal prosecution,” said Williams. “One of the key problems with the law is it is a prosecute-afterwards, not prevent-ahead-of-time.”
Democrats, who approved the elections law with no Republican votes, insist it was needed to encourage voter participation. The law also provides for all mail-in balloting, although the Sept. 10 recall elections are being conducted in person due to time constraints.
Critics say the problem is that the new law eliminates the 29-day voter-registration period and replaces it with same-day voter registration without removing the previous law’s intent clause.
Caldara says he suspects the change was made by design, not by accident, in order to allow party power-brokers to shift voters from safe districts to toss-up districts in close elections.
“This law has made it so you can move voters around to where they’re needed,” he said.
The elections bill, which passed with no Republican votes, was sponsored in the Senate by state Sen. Angela Giron (D-Pueblo), who’s also facing a recall election. The bill was originally written to take effect in 2014, but later changed to kick in immediately upon the governor’s signature.