Colorado secretary of state sued over voter purges
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
DENVER ” Election watchdog groups claim that Secretary of State Mike Coffman illegally removed the names of over 20,000 voters from state records and they’re asking a federal judge to step in and reinstate them in time for Election Day and make sure no one else is removed before then.
In a lawsuit filed Friday in federal court, groups including the Advancement Project and Colorado Common Cause allege that Coffman violated federal election law by in two ways.
They say that Coffman removed the names of 3,291 voters because election notices that were sent to them were returned as undeliverable within 20 days after they registered. That’s allowed under Colorado law but the groups say that violates federal law.
Last week, a federal judge ordered election officials in Michigan to stop automatically canceling registrations for similar reasons.
The groups suing Coffman also estimate that as many as 26,931 voters were purged from the rolls between July 31 and Oct. 31 ” within 90 days of the general and primary election.
That’s based on a comparison of the state’s voter registration database on Aug. 15 and on Oct. 13, which showed that the later list was missing 14,089 names shown on the earlier list. Of those, 1,892 were listed as removed because they had died, were convicted of a felony or had asked for their names to be removed, which is allowed under federal law. The others were removed for other reasons not allowed under federal law, the suit claims.
According to the suit, Jonathan Nagler, an expert on voter registration at the New York University, extrapolated based on that information to reach the estimate of 26,931 voters who were wrongly removed for reasons other than the three exceptions.
Colorado clerks have been removing duplicate registrations within the 90-day window but it’s not clear how many of those the voters the groups say were illegally purged were duplicates, said Penda Hair, co-director of the Advancement Project. Hair doesn’t believe federal law allows Colorado to remove those duplicate names because there’s a chance someone could be wrongfully removed, disqualifying them to vote in the election. She said most states do such maintenance in odd years, not in a presidential election year.
“There’s pretty much no reason for him to do that in this time period,” Hair said of Coffman.
In a written statement, Coffman said he believes he has followed the law.
“Through consultation with the Attorney General’s office, we believe Colorado has fully complied with all applicable voter registration laws and voter cancellation procedures. I’m confident that the judge will agree with our state’s processes,” Coffman said.
Coffman has previously said that 2,454 records were canceled during that 90-day window because the voters were listed as being registered more than once, a move which the state attorney general has said is allowed because a voter’s most recent registration remains on the rolls.
State Democrats have criticized that ruling, pointing out that both Coffman and the attorney general, John Suthers, are Republicans. Like Hair, party chairwoman Pat Waak has said she’s worried that some family members with similar names who live at the same address may have been inadvertently removed, disqualifying them to vote.
Coffman’s office has said the database allows clerks to check a voter’s date of birth and identification, such as a driver’s license, to make sure duplicates are truly duplicates.
The other groups suing Coffman are the Service Employees International Union and Mi Familia Vota Education Fund.
Coffman has also been criticized by Common Cause and other groups for not automatically registering people who provided part of their Social Security number on voter registration forms but failed to check a box affirming that they didn’t have a driver’s license or state identification.
At issue is the part of the voter registration form that requires voters to either enter a driver’s license or state ID number, or at least the first four digits of their Social Security numbers if they don’t have state IDs. The form also asks voters to check a box if they don’t have a state ID.
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