Colorado’s chief election officer visits

Voter status front-and-center in Gessler’s listening tour

Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler visited Durango on Wednesday, defending his effort to cull noncitizens from voter rolls, during his “election integrity listening tour.” La Plata County Clerk and Recorder Tiffany Lee Parker joined him at the La Plata County Courthouse. Enlargephoto

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler visited Durango on Wednesday, defending his effort to cull noncitizens from voter rolls, during his “election integrity listening tour.” La Plata County Clerk and Recorder Tiffany Lee Parker joined him at the La Plata County Courthouse.

After a legal back-and-forth with Denver County’s clerk and recorder about the legality of mailing ballots to voters listed as inactive on the state’s rolls, Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler said he supports a compromise that strikes the “inactive failed to vote” category entirely.

Though such a compromise is still in rough draft form and would have to be approved by the Legislature, Gessler said he has been in talks with Denver County Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson to come to a solution that would eliminate the inactive status while implementing measures to clean up Colorado’s voter rolls.

Inactive voters are those who failed to vote in the last general election.

The inactive voter status was one of several topics Gessler addressed during a visit to Durango on Wednesday.

The secretary of state’s stop in La Plata County was one of about 10 he made this month as part of an “election integrity listening tour” to gain residents’ feedback on last year’s election and solicit ideas for how to improve future elections.

About 15 people at the public meeting questioned Gessler about electronic voting, his use of his office’s discretionary funding and the potential for people to mistakenly assume that an inactive status prohibits them from voting.

Because of the large amount of controversy around touch-screen electronic voting, Gessler said, the state is likely moving toward a paper-only system. Internet voting also is not likely to be in the state’s near future, he said. He called a potential audit of his spending, which legislators voted down Tuesday, a waste of money, and said he empathized with concerns about misinformation that was spread about the inactive-voter status.

“I’m frustrated because I saw this happen, especially in Denver,” he said. “(People) scared the bejesus out of (other) people into thinking they were no longer on the rolls.”

Gessler’s tour comes on the heels of a fiery election season that included several controversies sparked by the actions of the secretary of state’s office.

Clashes between Gessler and Denver County Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson resulted in two lawsuits regarding counties’ ability to send out mail ballots to inactive voters in mail-in-only and city and school board elections. In both situations Gessler’s office issued orders that mail ballots could be sent only to active voters.

The clash over both issues resulted in lawsuits, one of which was decided in Johnson’s favor earlier this month.

An effort this summer to cull noncitizen voters from Colorado’s voter rolls incited calls of partisanship and voter intimidation. The secretary of state’s office sent about 4,000 letters to suspected noncitizens, asking them to verify citizenship or remove themselves from the state’s voter rolls. An analysis by the Associated Press found that the vast majority of letters were sent to Democrats or unaffiliated voters.

Of the 3,903 people who were sent letters, 441 have been identified as noncitizens through a federal database and 82 had vote histories, said Richard Coolidge, communications director for Gessler. The final numbers prompted critics to question whether the effort was worth it, considering the small number of noncitizen voters.

On Wednesday, Gessler said the effort was “absolutely worth it” and said he planned to continue it in the future. The cost, not including staff time, was about $8,000, Gessler said.

Overall, Gessler deemed last year’s election a success, citing a 10 percent increase in voter registration and a 1.5 percent increase in voter turnout compared with 2008.

“2012 was a really good election,” he said.

ecowan@durangoherald.com