State will review voter-roll upkeep in wake of reports

DENVER — Colorado is reviewing the way it deals with potentially ineligible voters after questions were raised about whether officials are violating federal law by putting such voters on a “cancel” list within 90 days of the election.

Secretary of State Mike Coffman said Thursday he asked lawyers to determine whether a federal prohibition on “systematic” voter purging so close to the election would apply to Colorado’s reviews of voter lists.

He said Colorado’s review isn’t “systematic” because it’s being done by people, not computers.

“We want to see where our process fits within the law,” he said.

The issue is especially sensitive because Colorado is a swing state with the potential to decide a close presidential election.

In Mesa County, Clerk Janice Rich said her staff has been doing no purging, but has been making sure that people who have died or have moved from the county no longer are listed among its registered voters.

“If you continue to keep duplicates on the rolls, you put the election at risk,” Rich said.

In any case, she said, voter-registration in Mesa County is on the rise. “We’re at a record number now,” she said.

Coffman insisted state elections officials have done nothing wrong by reviewing a new statewide voter database to cancel duplicate or ineligible voters. But he said the procedure will be reviewed in light of reports in The New York Times and by a watchdog group that the procedure is illegal so close to an election.

Both parties in Colorado, though, said they had no immediate objection to the state’s reviews.

Colorado officials said several times Thursday that listing a voter as “canceled” is not the same as a purge because those voters could still cast provisional ballots if they showed up at polls and could show they were improperly tossed.

State GOP Chairman Dick Wadhams said he has “tremendous confidence” that nothing improper has been done.

The spokesman for the state Democratic Party, Matthew Farrauto, said his party so far has no gripe, either.

“I have no evidence that (Coffman) has arbitrarily removed people,” Farrauto said.

Coffman said some 2,454 voters may be restored if the procedure violates law. He said he thinks the review is proper but added, “if it’s not, we’ll simply reinstate them.”

The Times reported Thursday that Colorado officials, as well as officials in some other battleground states, have been improperly weeding out or “purging” voters within 90 days of the election. That report follows a similar argument made by the nonpartisan watchdog group U.S. PIRG last month.

Colorado officials said several times Thursday that listing a voter as “canceled” is not the same as a purge because those voters could still cast provisional ballots if they showed up at polls and could show they were improperly tossed.

“There’s no such thing as a purge,” said Colorado elections division program manager William Browning. “They can show up and still be allowed to cast a provisional ballot.”

But the nuance did not impress elections watchdogs, who pointed out that the difference means little to voters. Even purged voters would be allowed to cast provisional ballots under federal law.

“That’s a distinction without a difference,” said Gary Kalman, a Washington-based analyst for U.S. PIRG who authored last month’s elections report.

Kalman argued that even if state intent is simply to clean up voting rolls, elections officials may be setting themselves up for a messy election if too many people cast provisional ballots, which take up to 14 days to count.

“All the warning signs say we could run into significant problems,” Kalman warned. “If someone’s not on the rolls, we’re going to have gummed-up works.”

On top of the 2,454 duplicate voters canceled in the 90-day window, others have been removed because they’ve died or moved out of state, or are felons or non-citizens. Colorado officials says federal law would still allow those ineligible voters to remain on the “canceled” list.

Coffman said it would compromise Colorado’s election if those 2,454 duplicate voters are removed from the “canceled” list. Then he added, “But if that’s the law, then, you know, that’s the law.”

State officials planned talks with county election clerks later Thursday. They didn’t say whether the reviews would stop pending the legal review.

The Times report noted similar possible violations in Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Nevada and North Carolina. The newspaper said voters appear to have been purged by mistake and not because of any intentional violations by election officials or coordinated efforts by any party.
On the Net:
Read the U.S. PIRG report: -Voters-
update.pdf Colo. elections:

Gary Harmon contributed to this report.


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