DENVER — Not to appear ungrateful, but Jon Caldara isn’t thrilled with the so-called “Caldara bill,” a Democratic effort to clean up last year’s sweeping elections overhaul now headed for the governor’s desk.
Senate Bill 161, which received final passage Tuesday in the state Senate, makes it tougher for Caldara to do what he did in September, namely cast a ballot in the Colorado Springs recall even though he has long lived in Boulder.
That’s not why Caldara dislikes the bill. Like the 14 Senate Republicans who voted against it Tuesday, Caldara says the measure barely skims the surface of the problems with last year’s Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act, also known as House Bill 1303.
“I think those who voted against it would agree it’s a tiny fix to a tiny part of a horrendously bad, flawed law,” said Caldara. “I’m glad this bad bill [H.B. 1303] is now a little better, but being the only state still with same-day voter registration and all mail-in ballots makes us the voter fraud capital of the country.”
The “Caldara bill” stiffens penalties for those who vote outside their home jurisdiction or aid voters who try to do so. The measure also eliminates a section of last year’s law saying that those who “intend” to move to an area may vote there.
House Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullighorst (D-Boulder) said during last week’s House floor debate that S.B. 161 “strengthens protections to ensure secure elections while ensuring that all eligible voters can participate without barriers.”
“Senate Bill 161 will continue to improve Colorado’s election system, which was recently nationally recognized for voter access and integrity,” said Hullinghorst.
She was apparently referring to a Pew Charitable Trusts report released Feb. 6 that ranked Colorado’s election administration fourth in the nation for 2010, up from its 12th-place ranking in 2008. Both those elections occurred before the passage of H.B. 1303, which took effect in May.
Sen. Ted Harvey (R-Highlands Ranch) said he voted against S.B. 161 because it didn’t “fix the inherent problems with the policy.”
“They simply are trying to make it look like they are being responsive to concerns when in fact they are not,” said Harvey. “There are serious problems associated with same-day voter registration and the Democrats refuse to be honest about them, or fix them.”
He added, “The Caldara bill was just lipstick.”
Democrats have argued that last year’s elections bill will remove barriers to voter participation and that concerns about fraud are unfounded. Even so, H.B. 1303 passed with no Republican votes.
This year’s cleanup bill received bipartisan support in the House after Hullinghorst allowed Republicans to add two amendments, including one from Rep. Bob Rankin (R-Carbondale) aimed at providing better training for election judges in signature verification.
Rankin said the Colorado Voter Access and Modernized Elections Commission met throughout the year to work on improvements to last year’s law.
“As a result of that work and this bill, we can have more confidence,” said Rankin in last week’s floor remarks. “Even though we may disagree on some of the aspects of how we conduct elections, at least we’ve added a measure of integrity to that.”
Caldara said Democrats could have saved themselves a lot of trouble by listening last year to Republican concerns about H.B. 1303. The attorney’s general (AG) office investigated Caldara’s ballot-casting in Colorado Springs, but declined to press charges.
“Why did there need to be a three-month AG’s investigation into my legal behavior in order to get the Democrats in the legislature to listen?” said Caldara.