The state House gave final approval Thursday a bill to bring special district and non-partisan elections in line with the 2013 Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act, over the objections of Republicans who said the measure would expand the potential for voter fraud.
“We are providing such immediate access that a person who is so motivated could easily vote in multiple districts on Election Day and there’s no time to catch that,” said state Rep. Chris Holbert (R-Parker). “It’s a question of how far an individual is willing to go, but to suggest no one would do such things, I think that is turning a blind eye to a potential problem.”
Last year’s bill ushered in same-day voter registration, meaning that eligible voters may register to vote the day of the election. The bill also reduced the state residency requirement to 22 days and eliminated the length of time required to live in a precinct.
House Republicans introduced a series of amendments Wednesday to reduce the risk of fraud but Democrats systematically shot them down, insisting that the possibility of illegal voting was remote and far outweighed by the need to encourage voter participation.
House Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst (D-Boulder) scoffed at warnings that the bill would open the door for outside voters to cast ballots in local races.
“The idea of people coming into a district and voting illegally is a figment of someone’s imagination,” said Hullinghorst in floor debate. “It has occurred very infrequently and when it has occurred it’s generally because somebody’s made a mistake. Why in the world would you do this intentionally when you’re subject to a felony?”
Holbert countered that such voters would be able to argue they had not committed a felony as long as they repeat “the seven magic words: I intend to live in the district.”
“Anyone can walk in and say, ‘I intend to live in the district,’ they don’t show photo ID, they don’t prove citizenship, they fill out a form and provide a name and an address, no Social Security number, no fingerprint,” said Holbert.
What’s more, he said, the issues before special districts, such as water access, can be hugely important to local communities, thus increasing the temptation for interest groups to flood the election with outside voters.
“Anyone who might have a motivation in a special district that deals with water, anyone who might have a motivation against the positions of a school district, can walk into the county clerk’s office and say, ‘I intend to live in this district,’” said Holbert. “And they receive a live ballot and they vote in that election, and that vote can’t really be challenged because it’s based on intent.”
Independence Institute president Jon Caldara did exactly that in the Sept. 10 recall election in Colorado Springs, even though he has long resided in Boulder, casting a ballot that he left intentionally blank in order to prove a point.
The Attorney General’s office declined to charge him in the case, but Hullinghorst dismissed the Caldara case as a “stunt,” saying that most voters couldn’t pull it off because Caldara had actually rented a room in Colorado Springs.
“That is not reality. That is not reality in the state of Colorado. That is a figment of somebody’s imagination,” said Hullinghorst. “It’s a circus act, and I absolutely disagree that our residency requirements aren’t fully supported by legal statute and that they can be enforced.”
Hullinghorst added that the Colorado Municipal League and Special Districts Association have endorsed and are “fully in support” of the bill, but House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso said those organizations have little choice but to fall in line with the sweeping elections changes enacted last year.
“We did hear the local jurisdictions come in and testify in favor of the bill, but the reality is they’re being strong-armed by the state of Colorado,” said DelGrosso (R-Loveland). “The state of Colorado put a law into place that was basically rammed through last year without their input, and now they are forced to say, ‘Look, what you put into law doesn’t work for our local districts, and we have no alternative but to come down here and try to conform to the state law.’”
Democrats have touted HB 1164 as a bipartisan measure, but that may no longer be true. On Thursday, state Rep. Carole Murray (R-Castle Rock) removed herself as the bill’s co-sponsor, and state Sen. Ellen Roberts (R-Durango) is expected to do the same.
The bill now moves to the state Senate, where Republicans may have a better shot of amending or defeating the measure, given that the Democrats control the body by just one vote.