Lawmakers battle over Colorado’s inactive voters
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
DENVER – Senate Democrats moved to take down what they say is a roadblock that makes it more difficult for more than 100,000 voters to participate in the November elections, resurrecting a proposal Monday that House Republicans previously rejected.
The legislative action would send mail-in ballots to so-called inactive voters who otherwise would have to cast ballots in person. And the implications are huge.
About 37 percent of the affected voters are Democrats. Around 23 percent are Republicans. The remaining 40 percent are unaffiliated – a bloc both parties think they can use to pick up support.
Democrats say they are pressing the issue to make voting easier, adding that the issue is more urgent with important state issues and the White House on the line.
“I would think that we would want every possible soul who’s eligible to vote, to be able to vote in that election,” said Sen. Rollie Heath, the chair of the committee that brought back the plan.
Republicans say the process is already simple for interested Colorado voters and GOP Sen. Kevin Grantham says that Democrats are going too far, trying to “somehow magically give them the right to vote.”
A Democratic-led Senate committee used a legislative loophole to bring back the plan, adding the proposal to a once-defunct Republican bill. House Republicans previously rejected another bill with those provisions and can turn back this proposal as well.
People who did not vote in the 2010 general election and failed to respond to requests to activate their registrations are considered inactive but are still eligible to vote.
Democrats moved to eliminate the term “inactive voter” and direct the secretary of state and county clerks to make sure that ballots are sent to everyone registered to be permanent mail-in voters.
“When they said permanent, they meant permanent,” said Democratic Sen. Michael Johnston, who sponsored Senate Bill 109, which passed the Senate last month with bipartisan support but was killed in committee by House Republicans.
Democrats reinstated Johnston’s ideas on House Bill 1267, a proposal dealing with various election procedures. Grantham, the sponsor, voluntarily spiked HB1267 last week when he caught wind of the Democrats plan.
Procedurally, Democrats were “well within their rights to do exactly what they did,” Grantham said, adding, but “it doesn’t make it right.”
Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler has said mailing ballots to inactive voters opens the door for fraud and violates state law.
Johnston said Democrats are not playing politics but are working to ensure the ability to vote is available to everyone. He noted Republican support from lawmakers who represent rural constituents likely to take advantage of mail voting.
One of the issues Democrats say can create confusion is that all voters, regardless of whether they’re considered inactive, receive a ballot in the all-mail primaries. But that changes in the general election when an inactive voter may not receive a mail ballot.
The matter is also playing out in court.
Gessler has filed a lawsuit against Denver’s clerk and recorder, and he tried unsuccessfully last year to block the city from mailing ballots to inactive voters.
Democrats have criticized Gessler’s stance, viewing it as an attempt to block some voters to influence elections.
Gessler, who knocked off an incumbent Democrat in 2010, frequently clashes with the party as the office overseeing elections here and in other states has become more political.
Gessler’s spokesman, Rich Coolidge, said the secretary’s position on inactive voters is not politically motivated. He said Gessler opposes mailing ballots to inactive voters because it’s costly and he’s trying to enforce current law.
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