An ambitious election reform bill supported by state Democrats and the Colorado County Clerks Association, which is largely made up of Republicans, will soon land on the desk of Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, despite the objections of Republican lawmakers and the state's extraordinarily partisan Republican Sec. of State.
The bill has now been approved by both chambers of the Colorado legislature --- along party lines in each --- but must be approved again in the House due to "technical" amendments from the Senate. But while it may be too late, partisans and lawmakers would have been wise to look carefully before leaping in support of this bill which offers both excellent reforms and reasons to be very concerned about one of its central provisions.
John Tomasic of the Colorado Independent offered a detailed report earlier this week on the major concerns and somewhat confusing partisan divides on both sides of this particular piece of legislation.
There's a lot of good, long-overdue provisions in the sweeping, 126-page bill [PDF] (mercifully summarized on pages 2 through 4). The key provisions --- and main points of contention --- are summarized this way by Tomasic:
Tomasic goes on to explain that the bill, dubbed "The Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act", is sponsored by Democrats in both the CO House and Senate, but it's "based on a plan approved by a large bipartisan majority of clerks who run the state’s elections county to county. The Colorado County Clerks Association reports that 75 percent of the 64 clerks in the state support the bill. The Association is anything but a left-wing cabal: At least 44 of the clerks, some 70 percent, are Republican officeholders."
The politics on this one may be understandably confusing to some --- particularly with a former Republican Sec. of State favoring the bill, and the current Republican Sec. of State ardently opposing it --- but the professed concerns of the latter (that the expanded registration provisions will lead to "voter fraud") are largely nonsense. While the advocacy of the former (pushing broad expansion of vote-by-mail ballots to every voter in the state) ignores very real fraud concerns...
SoS v. SoS
One of the supporters of the election reform bill is the Clerk's Association Executive Director Donetta Davidson, a former Republican Sec. of State in Colorado, as well as a former George W. Bush-appointed Commissioner and Chairwoman of the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission (EAC).
The BRAD BLOG has detailed Davidson's embarrassing failures as EAC Chair many times over the years during the course of our investigative reports based on public records requests and much more. Those reports have detailed, among other things, Davidson's inappropriately cozy relationship with voting machine manufacturers and representatives, both as CO SoS and in her position at the EAC, and her willingness to overlook massive failures by the supposedly independent testing labs tasked with (poorly) testing and certifying virtually all of the electronic voting systems now in place around the country.
She also played a central role in one of our investigative reports, published exclusively as a chapter in Mark Crispin Miller's 2008 book, Loser Take All: Election Fraud and The Subversion of Democracy, 2000 - 2008, about how 100% unverifiable touch-screen voting systems with so-called "paper trail printers" were illegally certified by the state of Nevada's then Sec. of State (now-Senator) Dean Heller, for first-time use during the contentious 2004 Presidential Election, after being inappropriately approved for use by the EAC, in direct contravention of their own long-standing requirements. Suffice to say, during an hour-long conference call with Davidson and others at the EAC, as requested by the federal agency prior to publication of our report, we were absolutely floored by her astounding apparent lack of knowledge of the very voting systems and the testing processes she was tasked, at the time, with overseeing on behalf of the federal government.
Davidson favors the new CO election reform bill, but don't hold that alone against it.
In the meantime, CO's current Republican Sec. of State, Scott Gessler, who has proven to be an absolute embarrassment to the state since taking office in 2010, strongly opposes it.
Gessler has also made his share of ignominious appearances at The BRAD BLOG over recent years. For example, last year he attempted, then aborted, a shameful last-minute voter purge initiative of what he described as thousands of suspected non-citizen voters on the rolls. The effort to remove as many as 11,000 voters from the rolls, the number he cited during the first year he took office, was called off when it was found that almost every single of them were, indeed, citizens.
"In the end," Tomasic notes, citing an AP report finding just 12% of those on his hit-list were registered as Republicans, "Gessler offered an unconfirmed shriveled list of 35 non-citizens who may have cast votes in past elections." Emphasis there should be on "unconfirmed" and "maybe". That, out of millions of legal votes cast in the period even since Gessler has taken office.
That's not all, of course. His extraordinarily partisan behavior in advance of last year's Presidential Election in the pivotal swing-state is just one of many reasons that both the Democrats and the Clerks Association reportedly shut Gessler completely out of the process as they were crafting their bill. Another example was on display in the days before last year's election, as actual GOP voter registration fraud cases began appearing across the country, including in Colorado, allegedly carried out by workers for a firm hired by the Republican National Committee. As the scandal was quickly spreading, Gessler was busy joining Tea Party wingnut conspiracy theory conferences to speak on panels where he offered unsupported falderal about "organized" Democratic voter fraud schemes, even while ignoring real fraud schemes happening in his own state, by employees of his own political party.
One more point worth noting here on Gessler, before explaining how he's correct to worry about fraud because of this bill, but not for the main reasons he and Republican state legislators have so far offered. Here's Tomasic again:
So, suffice to say that Gessler is a hard Rightwing partisan who attempts, over and over again, to couch his efforts at restricting perfectly legal Democratic-leaning voters from being able to cast their vote, behind repeatedly discredited claims of "voter fraud" being carried out by, or on behalf of, the Democratic Party.
His wolf-crying routine has largely, and deservedly, earned him utter irrelevance in the state's election reform lawmaking process in the bargain.
This time, with the possibility of massive (gasp!) voter enfranchisement likely to occur, thanks to expanded voter registration, right up to Election Day, and convenient Vote-by-Mail ballots arriving in the mailbox of every Colorado voter, Gessler is scrambling to find something, anything, with which to discredit the bill.
Too bad he seems to be missing the most obvious reason to do so.
Opening Pandora's Ballot Box
Gessler, and other opponents of the bill, have decided to focus largely on the expanded voter registration deadline as reason to oppose it. They say that it will either lead to fraudulent registrations, or that it can't be safely implemented in time for the 2013 elections, as currently set in the bill, because, as a Denver Post editorial misleadingly describes, the system for doing so "relies on technology that hasn't been tested."
Tomasic's article quotes Boulder’s Democratic Clerk Hillary Hall thoroughly undermining that argument, which she says she finds "baffling"....
"We already have statewide connectivity for early voting," she said. "We use it right now and have for years in the weeks before Election Day. We’re simply extending that registration period by 29 days."
"If the concern is tied to same-day registration and voting, well, this bill doesn’t just put in same-day registration. That piece joins with a larger system that, again, draws on functions and practices already in place," Hall said.
While close attention, and independent testing by world-class computer science and security experts, needs to be a part of any online voter registration system, the technology for such a system is not that difficult, and is not, in and of itself, a recipe for fraud, if properly executed. So Gessler's, and other opponents, charges on those grounds seem to be baseless.
Gessler has also offered the ridiculous argument that there is no need to increase participation in Colorado's elections, because the state's voter turnout is, apparently, already good enough. (He reportedly told lawmakers that the state was number one in the country, according to Tomasic. In fact, it's number three, according to a recent study. Still, while that's a very good turnout, it's hardly reason to not expand participation as secure options may allow.)
So Gessler, it seems, has got nothing. Too bad. Because, even with everything that is good about this bill, there is every reason to be very concerned about the door it really will open for fraud via Vote-by-Mail ballot.
The BRAD BLOG has --- along with many others in the Election Integrity community --- long decried the broad use of VBM for a number of reasons. Many of those reasons are quickly bullet-pointed in our short article from some years ago, entitled "Why 'Vote-By-Mail' Elections Are a Terrible Idea for Democracy".
In short, while the type of voter fraud that Republicans disingenuously claim to be rampant (voter impersonation at the polling place, with restrictive Photo ID laws that disproportionately disenfranchise Democratic-leaning voters needed to combat it, as they argue) is virtually non-existent, where ballot fraud by voters actually does occur in American elections is almost entirely via absentee/Vote-by-Mail. Whether its voter intimidation, vote buying and selling, filling out mail ballots by someone other than the voter who it belongs to, Vote-by-Mail should be a very serious concern for those worried about fraud in U.S. elections.
Unfortunately for Republicans, whose polling place Photo ID restriction laws have absolutely nothing to do with absentee voting, their arguments against the CO bill almost completely miss the mark on the real concerns about fraud from this bill. Their pretend fixation on "voter fraud" at the polls (little more than a pretend scam meant to keep legal, if Democratic-leaning voters from voting), means that few of them seem to notice how this legislation really may open up the door to fraud.
Expanding Vote-by-Mail it to every voter in the state, whether they've requested a VBM ballot or not, would seem to be a recipe for disaster.
We are quoted and cited a couple of times in Tomasic's article. Here is one of those cites...
Friedman, the elections analyst at the influential BradBlog, has long cautioned against the growing movement in the U.S. toward mail elections. He has argued that mailing ballots extends the chain of custody, presenting greater opportunity for election fraud — the kind committed by overzealous campaign staffers, incompetent poll workers and corrupt special interest groups.
Mary Eberle, a longtime volunteer Colorado poll watcher, testified against the election-reform bill this month for the same reasons she has protested other recent changes to election administration in the state. She sees home mail boxes, post offices, ballot-sorting-and-reading machines and the rooms where they’re housed as democratic dark areas that invite abuse, places where citizens like herself can’t properly measure ballot integrity.
So, where Gessler is absolutely wrong to oppose this bill for the reasons he is putting forward, his predecessor Davidson, and the Democratic lawmakers who often seem to support increased turnout at any cost (we hope to have more on that in the near future) are similarly wrong in supporting it without paying careful attention to the Pandora's Ballot Box of fraud that they could be opening by expanding Vote-by-Mail to all...even to voters who don't want it, and haven't requested it. There are about to be a whole lot of blank ballots just floating around the state of Colorado. That is not a very good idea at all.
There is much more in Tomasic's piece at Colorado Independent worth checking out, in order to appreciate the broad election reforms likely to hit the Centennial State very soon. Many of those reforms are already in place elsewhere in the country, and many are likely to spread to your state as well. So understanding the lay of the land on these reforms --- both political and factual --- makes sense. Coloradans are lucky to have a smart, detail-oriented reporter like Tomasic there to help them do so.