Election-reform bill advances to full House

Keywords: Voting,

DENVER – Democrats advanced an election bill Monday night that would replace neighborhood polling places with mail ballots.

La Plata County Clerk Tiffany Lee Parker, a Republican, was one of the lead witnesses in favor of the bill at its first hearing before a House panel.

Parker said the reforms will make elections less confusing for voters and less costly for county budgets.

People who want to vote in person would be able to go to a centralized vote center, but their regular precinct polling place would not be open.

“The bipartisan team that worked on this legislation worked together to come up with a method for voters who prefer to vote by mail and those who prefer to vote in person,” said Parker, vice president of the Colorado County Clerks Association.

“Although this issue has now become very partisan, we as elected officials need to remember who we’re working for, and that is the people,” she said.

But the clerks appear to be the only Republican officials supporting House Bill 1303, which is sponsored by Democrats.

A long-simmering feud between Secretary of State Scott Gessler — a Republican – and county clerks of both parties bubbled into full view during the hearing.

Parker and other leaders of the Colorado County Clerks Association generated the bill, and they didn’t consult Gessler, the state’s top elections official.

“I find it hard to believe this is a bipartisan bill when every single person in my office was excluded,” along with Republicans in the Legislature, Gessler said.

The secretary of state has sued several county clerks over different election issues. He lost in court when he sued Denver and Pueblo counties to prevent them from sending mail ballots to voters on the inactive list.

HB 1303 takes direct aim at Gessler’s policy on inactive voters – people who did not vote in the previous election. The bill would do away with the status and make sure every registered voter gets a ballot unless the county clerk knows the person has moved away.

Gessler testified that the bill would risk voter fraud and would be difficult to put into practice. He also took issue with an analysis by the Legislature’s nonpartisan staff that predicted the changes would save $5 million to $15 million for counties statewide.

“I haven’t read it closely. I’ve had to limit my reading to nonfiction lately,” Gessler said.

Voters would have more time to register to vote by mail or online under the bill, and they could register in person on Election Day.

Gessler said relaxing registration deadlines will favor Democrats. Many political operatives share that opinion, although the evidence for it is scant.

Dozens of citizens responded to Gessler’s call on talk radio and social media to oppose the bill. Testimony – mostly against the bill – stretched past 9 p.m. as snow from a spring storm piled up outside.

The House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee passed the bill 7-4, on a party-line vote.