Legislators should not rush to pass HB 1303 without public comment
The quick endorsement by liberal civic action groups of Rep. Dickey Lee Hullinghorst’s fast-tracking Voter Access and Modernized Election Act (HB 1303) suggests it comes as no surprise to them. By the time the news hit Twitter, Colorado Common Cause and Progress Now Colorado were going online, urging members to pester their representatives to vote for the bill.
Progress Now Colorado reminds its members, “We live in the 21st century. Technology is changing our lives, and rendering old worries obsolete.” The appeal continues by extolling easier access to registration and the variety of ways ballots could be cast.
Common Cause Colorado told its members, “It’s time to come into the 21st century. The Colorado Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act … would be a big step forward.” Praising the bill for including Election Day registration and voting and the variety of ballot choices, the endorsement concludes, “Colorado has always been a leader in election access and integrity. Let’s raise the bar again.”
While these organizations are urging their members to call their representatives to seek support for HB 1303, the most articulate critic of election practices in Colorado is sounding the alarm. After a series of victories against election officials in several counties, Marilyn Marks, founder of Citizen Center in Aspen, questions whether HB 1303 raises the bar or lowers it.
“The concepts underlying the Election Modernization Act are an anathema to a modern democratic society and are an attempt to pull Colorado back to … voting methods that required decades of massive reform to curtail widespread corruption in American elections,” Marks charges.
In an appeal to the House Veterans and Governmental Affairs Committee, in which the bill will be considered, she outlined her objections to HB 1303: “Bill is anti-democratic, overturning 150 years of election principles—Bill concentrates power in government, not the people—High risk of fraud, disenfranchisement, error and mismanagement—2012 statistics demonstrate a high risk system—Easy solutions are available to increase voter participation without 1303—State is not ready for proposed ‘modernization’—Complex bill needs months of study by experts.”
Each point is developed in more detail in Marks’ letter, but her most compelling theme is the potential loss of citizen control over elections. Marks claims it “would wrest control of our elections from the hands of the people, and allow … individuals and the government all the power to control the ballot box.”
Marks is concerned the “one watcher” per party per step in the election process “is a thinly veiled message that the people can no longer oversee their elections, and the clerks will control the process.” Without adequate citizen oversight, ballot verification essentially would be an “honor system” in which the county clerks would certify their own accuracy.
“An ‘honor system’ in elections is folly,” Marks writes, “and should not be suddenly foisted on the unsuspecting public.”
Raising issues of self-interest, as well as lack of transparency in elections conducted by county clerks, Marks charges, “1303 seeks to dismantle the most basic time-tested controls in all essential areas, and hide those elements from public view. Elections under 1303 are to be conducted in the dark and controlled almost exclusively by the sponsors of this bill—the (County) Clerks.”
In a final appeal against rushing the Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act into law, Marks warns that “the ill-conceived, complex and philosophically earth-shaking bill’s details are numerous and need months of full discussion. But sponsors crafting the bill for six months in private tell us there is no time for voters to get answers or debate the specifics.”
None of the organizations supporting HB 1303 seems to have considered these possible downsides. It is hard to imagine they would deliberately choose efficiency over democracy.
Only an open public debate on the long-term effects of HB 1303 can determine the validity of Marks’ concerns. Rushing to pass this paradigm-changing legislation cannot be justified while fundamental questions remain unanswered.
Surrendering community control of our most sacred democratic tradition to party-affiliated bureaucrats is the antithesis of Colorado’s election tradition. It must not be taken lightly nor passed quickly with minimal public involvement.