Voter hindrance or money saver?
The Colorado Legislature is considering a bill designed to help save money when the state conducts elections.
Problem is, some people see it as a way to suppress voter turnout.
That measure, SB71, would allow elections officials in the state’s largest counties, including Mesa, to have fewer vote centers during the first week of early voting.
Under current law, counties must have one vote center for every 30,000 residents. The bill would increase that to 75,000, meaning a county such as Mesa would only need to maintain two vote centers during the first week of voting.
Supporters of the idea say few voters use those centers during that period.
“We don’t believe that this in any way limits people’s choices to vote,” said Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert.
Staiert said that statewide, vote centers averaged about 2,400 people during the first week of operation, which is two weeks before a general election. The following week, those numbers reach more than 140,000 people by Election Day.
Opponents of the measure, however, said however small the number, there are enough voters who utilize the centers to justify them.
“Increasing the efficiency of elections for both voters and counties requires a more holistic approach than simply reducing the formula for (vote centers) for certain counties during the first week,” said Elizabeth Steele, elections director for Colorado Common Cause. “Reducing the formula has actual impact.
“It would remove voting locations from cities, towns and neighborhoods throughout the state, but will do nothing to address the other issues that voters face, such as convenient hours, adequate drop-box locations, necessary resources to process larger numbers of voters and locations accessible by public transit,” she said.
The Senate State, Veterans & Military Affairs Committee took testimony on the bill, but didn’t vote on any amendments or the measure itself. Still, it is expected to pass in the GOP-controlled Senate. Sen. Jack Tate, R-Centennial, is its prime sponsor.
Opponents also argue that the counties already are saving tons of money when the state went to all mail-in ballots.
In Mesa County, for example, the office spent more than $394,000 to conduct its elections in 2008, a presidential election year. Four years later, before all-mail voting was approved, that didn’t drop much, down to $319,000.
Last year’s elections cost the county $180,160, and at a time when the number of voters jumped by more than 17,000 people, according to figures supplied by the clerk’s office.