Gessler says there’s ‘still work to do’ in state’s voting process
Ryan Summerlin January 30, 2013
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The 2012 general election in Colorado was, by most accounts, a success. But that doesn’t mean improvements can’t be made to the state’s voting system, Secretary of State Scott Gessler said during a stop in Glenwood Springs Tuesday.
“Lots of eyes were trained on the state of Colorado during this election,” Gessler said, noting that Colorado was a key swing state in the presidential election.
“I’ve been involved in elections for 12 years, and this was one of the best we’ve had,” he said.
Gessler noted that Colorado didn’t have the long waits at polling places that plagued the election in other states, and Colorado’s voter registration and turnout was up compared to the 2008 and 2010 elections.
The Secretary of State’s Office spent more than $1 million last year to encourage people to register to vote or update their registration information online.
The result was a 10 percent increase in voter registration compared to 2008, and a nearly 68 percent overall voter turnout, which was up more than 1 percent compared to four years ago, he said.
Some 250,000 voters also went onto the state’s voter registration website and updated their information prior to last fall’s election, he said.
“But that doesn’t mean there’s not still work to do,” said Gessler, who was in Glenwood Springs as part of his ongoing “election integrity listening tour.”
Since the November election, Gessler has been hosting meetings across the state seeking input from voters and local election officials on what worked and what didn’t work this past election cycle.
The Tuesday meeting was attended by about 20 people, including several local election judges who were invited by Garfield County Clerk Jean Alberico. Also attending were Pitkin County Clerk Janice Vos and Eagle County Deputy Clerk Elizabeth Bailey.
One local observation had to do with the various voter registration drives at public events and door-to-door, which sometimes led to problems at polling places when people were informed they weren’t on the voter rolls.
Just because a person fills out the registration paperwork through a drive, they can still be screened out for different reasons when that information reaches the county clerk’s office, Alberico said.
“There is a verification process we use with that data entry,” she said. A registration form can be rejected due to a person being deemed ineligible, or because that name and personal identification information already appears in the system, she said.
When it comes to voter registration drives sponsored by different organizations, “it is very much an honor system,” Gessler said.
He said more training is needed for organizations that do voter drives and their volunteers.
“We need to make sure people are following the rules and not making mistakes, so they are not accidentally, or purposely, registering people who aren’t eligible,” Gessler said.
Confusion at the polls also arises with so-called “motor voter” registrations, where people register at the time they renew their driver’s licenses at Division of Motor Vehicles offices.
Longtime Garfield County election judge Patricia VanTeylingen said it can slow the process when people who think they are registered show up at the polls but don’t appear on the voter rolls.
Those people are issued provisional ballots, but it does take time to explain and does slow down the voting process, she said.
Gessler said better training can also be extended to DMV workers so they can explain deadlines and other election details to motor-voter registrants at the time they register.
Other concerns raised at the meeting included oversight of voting procedures for nursing home residents, the prospects for college students continuing to vote in Colorado but residing out of state, rules governing partisan poll watchers, and identification requirements at the polls.
Eagle County resident and voter rights activist Harvey Branscom outlined a list of concerns related to his observations as a poll watcher and canvass board member in his county, ranging from signature verification to determining whether to accept a write-in vote.
Branscom also questioned the cost for candidates to pursue recounts in close races that don’t require an automatic recount, such as the 9th District Attorney race in which challenger Sherry Caloia defeated incumbent Martin Beeson by a narrow margin.
“There is a potential there for the price being an obstacle,” Branscom said.
Beeson was advised that a recount of the ballots in the three-county judicial district would have cost him more than $11,000. Beeson chose not to pursue a recount in the race, which was decided by 124 votes.
Gessler continued his tour in Grand Junction on Tuesday, with stops in Montrose, Durango and Alamosa also planned this week.