DENVER — Democrats are quietly moving through the state legislature a bill to clean up last year’s much-criticized elections law and, perhaps as importantly, stop the Independence Institute’s Jon Caldara from voting outside Boulder.
Senate Bill 161, also known as the “Caldara Bill,” would remove a provision from the 2013 Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act that allows Coloradans to cast ballots in communities to which they “intend” to move.
The Democrat-sponsored bill also increases the penalty for providing “false residential information” from a Class 6 to a Class 5 felony, and makes it a felony to aid or abet “the provision of false residential information.”
“There’s one high-profile case of someone who I believe misrepresented where his sole legal residence was, and this enhances the penalty,” said state Sen. Jesse Ulibarri (D-Commerce City), the bill’s sponsor, at last month’s Senate State Affairs Committee hearing.
The House State Affairs Committee passed the bill Monday, two weeks after the Senate approved it, but not before Republicans threw in a few I-told-you-so’s. Last year’s election overhaul, known as House Bill 1303, was passed over the objections of Republicans who said the bill would invite voter fraud and campaign chicanery.
“This bill does a number of good things, including correcting some of the things we pointed out last year in 1303,” said El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Wayne Williams at Monday’s hearing.
Caldara drew headlines in September when he cast a blank ballot in the Colorado Springs recall election, even though he has long lived in Boulder, in order to bring attention to what he described as loopholes and sloppy language in the sweeping Democrat-pushed elections overhaul.
He was aided by former state Rep. Mark Barker, who agreed to lease a room at his home in Colorado Springs to Caldara to help demonstrate his residency. Democrats demanded Caldara’s prosecution, but the attorney’s general office declined to press charges after an investigation, citing “arguable ambiguity” in the new elections law.
Caldara, who had promised to repeat his stunt if the law were not changed, said Monday that he was “so very, very flattered and highly disappointed that they’re trying to rein in my voting rights.”
“It would have been nice if they’d just listened to us last year in the first place instead of having this mad rush to create their permanent electoral victories,” said Caldara. “It was just the arrogance of the last session of grabbing as much as they could while they could that just got them so very sloppy. And it’s not just sloppy, it was dangerous what they did.”
One feature of the 2013 election law is that it eliminates precincts and requires only that would-be voters reside in Colorado for 22 days. That provision, even with the removal of the “intent to reside” wording, could keep the door open for elections mischief.
“Keep in mind, I didn’t ‘intend’ to move to Colorado Springs, I actually moved there. Who knows where I might move again?” said Caldara, who heads the free-market think tank.
While House Republicans refrained Monday from crowing over the Democrats’ scramble to repair the bill, state Sen. Ted Harvey (R-Highlands Ranch) wasn’t quite as restrained at last month’s Senate committee hearing.
“I think that 1303 had significant flaws in it. I offered probably 50 amendments to try to fix those problems. I had 100, but I probably offered 50,” said Harvey. “Every one of them was denied . . . We continually try to act like we know what we’re doing and never accept any amendments, but then come back with a different bill rather than fixing it the first time.”
He noted that the state legislature is considering two other bills, HB 1164 and SB 158, aimed at patching up problems with last year’s elections bill.
Democrats have characterized SB 161 as a commonplace example of minor post-election tweaking.
“This kind of bill comes up almost every year after an election, and it was very important that we have a bill this year to make sure our new voting system works as best it can to provide access and ease of voting and to secure the integrity of the ballot box,” said House Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst (D-Boulder) at Monday’s hearing.
Caldara said he wished Democrats would admit they erred during last year’s session by refusing to take seriously concerns about the sweeping elections bill, which was passed with no Republican votes.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if just once they would say, ‘We were wrong?’” asked Caldara. “Wouldn’t it be nice if they would say, ‘This is the we-were-wrong bill’? That would be refreshing. My feeling is that if my move helped to rectify even a small part of 1303, then I need to move to a lot more places a lot more often.”