Like the Duke at Fort Apache, Gessler fights lonely battle

When I think of Colorado’s Secretary of State’s office, I think of the movie Fort Apache: A lonely outpost surrounded by hostiles, with Secretary Scott Gessler saddling up to ride out yet another day, patrolling for common-sense election integrity.

As someone who thinks it would be nice to only have individuals qualified to vote participate in elections, I’ve followed Secretary of State Gessler’s career since he was elected in 2010, and it has been a bumpy ride. The Fort Apache analogy is about right except the Indians John Wayne’s character had to deal with were a little easier to get along with than Democrats in Denver, who are on the hunt for the Secretary of State.

I was prompted to do a little investigation of how things were going by reading a profile piece in a Denver magazine. I thought the writing was pretty snarky, like describing some of the work Gessler has done as “antics” and so forth. This didn’t surprise me, because when it comes to writing about a Republican politician for a “hip” uptown magazine, describing the politician diminutively and unseriously is practically required. (Note: My snark is properly on the opinion page).

What did surprise me was, when I contacted the secretary’s office for some background information, they sent me a link to that article. That’s how bad it has become. 

There is a comedy Western where James Garner receives a sheriff’s badge with a large bullet dent and remarks this must’ve saved someone’s life. The mayor agrees that it certainly would have, except for all the other bullets flying in from every direction. I guess this article was the dented badge — bad, but not as bad as the rest.

A couple of infuriating things Gessler’s office has done to rile up his critics include trying to clean up voter rolls by removing inactive voters and controlling the practice of automatically mailing out ballots to those people at general elections. It would seem obvious that mailing ballots to people who haven’t voted for some period of time so that someone can return that completed ballot, without ever seeing an election official, is a pretty bad idea.

This truism is not universally embraced, as efforts along these lines have resulted in the chairman of the state’s Democratic Party suggesting that the secretary be removed from office.

One idea to help the voting system was a failed bill that would have done away with the designation, “inactive voter.” Problem solved.

That provision was in a recent bill that Secretary Gessler testified against, which did have some Republican support (thankfully not enough). It would have guaranteed that an estimated 300,000 inactive voters would receive mail-in ballots for the November election.

I’m not sure having bipartisan support for a bad idea makes it a good one, but it does show some evenhandedness on the part of the secretary.

According to The Denver Post, the bill “would have changed the status of all people listed as ‘inactive — failed to vote’ to active voters.”

I’m not sure we really water the tree of democracy by spraying ballots out to places where past voters may or may not live, to people who may not want to vote or be qualified to do so.

Secretary Gessler still carries the quaint notion that for general elections, people should request mail-in ballots rather than county clerks simply sending them to pretty much anybody who’s been near a voting booth. 

It might be instructive to know that in February, a Washington, D.C., organization mailed out over 17,000 voter registration cards in an effort, according to The Denver Post, to register minorities, unmarried women and young adults. Unfortunately, the forms did not contain a signature line or the affidavit, swearing to the voter’s qualifications.

We have reached a pretty sad state of affairs when we hand out voter registration cards like hand-printed fliers for a rave.

Support for proper voter qualification triggers the usual flashcards from left: Advocates want to suppress the vote, are racist and their mothers wear army boots.

It is clear, however, which side seems to place more value on the integrity of the voting booth.

Rick Wagner writes more on politics at his blog, The War on Wrong.


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