Attack on Reiner is anything but fair

The Citizens for Free and Fair Elections has an imposing-sounding name. But its attack on Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Sheila Reiner is not at all fair.

Nor are the group’s actions those of responsible citizens, since it has failed to file the requisite electioneering forms with state officials.

The so-far-anonymous organization mailed fliers to Mesa County voters over the weekend, accusing Republican Reiner of joining with President Barack Obama and Democrats in an effort to undermine our voting system.

Reiner’s crime is to support House Bill 1303, which passed the Colorado House last Friday. All but one of the other county clerks in the state — the majority of them Republican — support HB1303 through the Colorado County Clerks Association. Presumably, the Citizens for Free and Fair Elections are targeting other clerks, as well.

Certainly, any group or individual has a right to oppose HB1303, which changes voting rules to mandate that every voter receives a mail ballot, and to allow voter registration even on Election Day. It also offers new systems for verifying voters’ identities and for ensuring they haven’t voted in another jurisdiction.

The bill is worthy of moving forward, with some changes. We agree with Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler that the 90-day time period for implementation is too short. It could overwhelm state and county systems.

But the claims made by the Citizens for Free and Fair Elections group are outrageous — that felons, illegal immigrants, even dead people, would suddenly be casting ballots, possibly in several different locations and that “We would be left with no way to verify a voter’s identity.”

In fact, as Reiner and others have pointed out, HB1303 establishes new and better means for verifying voters’ identities, even if they register on Election Day. Among other things, every county clerk would have more immediate computer access to a variety of state and federal databases to verify identities and check criminal records. Gessler is unsure of that.

The bill was drafted by the County Clerks Association and voting-rights groups, albeit without Gessler’s participation, to make elections run more smoothly and to improve voter access and voting security.

It’s not a perfect bill, and some portions of it could stand to be improved.

But the notion that Reiner and other county clerks in the state — who answer directly to the citizens of their own counties — drafted the legislation and support it because they are engaged with Obama and Democrats “to undermine elections and allow rampant voter fraud” is laughable.

Citizens for Free and Fair Elections should stop hiding in the shadows and should publicly apologize to Reiner.


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Now that the virulent right-wing opposition to HB 13-1303 – the “Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act” – has been exposed by the Daily Sentinel (“Flier assails Mesa County clerk”, April 21, 2013), deemed “laughable” by its editors (“Attack on Reiner anything but fair”, April 23, 2013), and gained deserved notoriety in national media, it’s time to revisit the substance of that legislation.

As chronicled by Bill Grant (“Legislators should not rush to pass election act without public comment”, April 17, 2013), the bill seeks to expand voter participation in what will become predominately “mail in” paper ballot elections, and mandates multiple untested administrative changes.  While its rabid opponents cite an alleged potential for widespread “voter fraud”, even our partisan Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler has already proven that such fears are the product of baseless paranoia—not evidence.

Thus, while Republicans seem consumed by preventing nonexistent “voter fraud” at all costs – even if so doing means denying and/or suppressing some citizens’ constitutional right to vote, Democrats seek to expand and guarantee that right – even if that means accepting statistically insignificant but detectable incidents of attempted registration and/or voter fraud – but may be moving faster than our election infrastructure can handle.

According to the Carter Center’s internationally acclaimed Democracy Project, truly “democratic” elections should be conducted by impartial officials, employ permanently   “secret ballots”, and be entirely transparent before, during, and after elections.

Therefore, HB 13-1303 creates a Colorado Voter Access and Modernized Elections Commission – an “impartial” panel capable of evaluating the recommendations of the Colorado County Clerks Association (CCCA) and their implementation by a partisan Secretary of State—but neither reaffirms Colorado’s constitutional commitment to the “secret ballot” nor restores previously lost transparency, and “sunsets” in 2015.

Moreover, HB 13-1303 allocates two Commission seats to the CCCA – without requiring that taxpayer-supported and thus quasi-public (if not partisan) organization to disclose its outside sources of lobbying funds – despite the CCCA’s demonstrated disdain for ballot secrecy and concerted opposition to genuine election transparency.

Thus, the public policy questions remains whether HB 13-1303’s wide-ranging election law changes should be implemented before or – perhaps better—after the Commission considers both public input and that of the election rights experts to be appointed by the Governor, and whether the Commission should be made permanent (like the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission).

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