Gessler’s crusade was intimidating, ineffective
Imagine you are a recently sworn-in, naturalized citizen of the United States, living in Colorado.You receive a letter from Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler, questioning your citizenship status and your right to vote, and demanding documentation regarding both.
Most people would be more than a little angry that their newly adopted country was treating them so shabbily, challenging one of their most fundamental rights as new citizens of our representative democracy.
Others, especially those who immigrated from more repressive countries than ours, might think twice about exercising their right to vote after being called out by one of the state’s top bureaucrats.
We don’t know if it was Gessler’s intention to intimidate voters, primarily Democratic and independent ones, as some of his critics contend. But it’s hard to conclude that intimidation was not one of the effects of his unnecessary and largely ineffective personal crusade to purge Colorado voter rolls of any people who aren’t citizens of this country.
Furthermore, one has to ask: Which is the greater sin, allowing a few people to vote who don’t meet all voting requirements or preventing legitimate U.S. citizens from exercising their right to vote?
Without question, it’s the latter.
This country and this state should take reasonable measures to prevent voter fraud. The Daily Sentinel has never accepted the “sky is falling” claims from some folks that requiring a photo ID to vote is tantamount to a poll tax and old Jim Crow voting laws in the South. Neither has the U.S. Supreme Court. It upheld Indiana’s photo ID law several years ago.
But Gessler’s effort to go after supposedly illegal voters in Colorado is something different. He began his crusade shortly after taking office early in 2011. He claimed large numbers of potential illegal voters in the state, but he refused to share the names of those supposedly illegitimate voters with county clerks, who could have begun the process of checking them.
He sent out letters to roughly 3,900 people last month, questioning their citizenship and voter status, before he got access to a federal database that allowed him to check citizenship.
Once Gessler’s office obtained access to that database and ran the names of approximately 1,400 people on that list of 3,900, it found no confirmed cases of noncitizens being registered to vote among the 1,400. Most were people who recently became citizens.
Last week, the Secretary of State’s office announced that 16 people out of those 3,900 who received letters last month had voluntarily asked to have their names removed from voting rolls. But there’s no word on whether all 16 of those were noncitizens, ineligible to vote, or whether they were legal citizens who simply abandoned their rights rather than continue to deal with Gessler’s heavy-handed tactics.