Over 6,000 in Colorado not registered because of unchecked box
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
DENVER ” With only a week left before the start of early voting, more than 6,000 people who registered to vote aren’t eligible to cast regular ballots yet because they failed to check a box on their registration forms. The number is expected to rise since county clerks are still working their way through last-minute registration forms that came in before last week’s deadline.
At issue is the part of the voter registration form that requires voters to either enter a driver’s license or state identification 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.
Election watchdog groups say the box check, required by Colorado law, is an overly strict interpretation of federal law that they haven’t seen in other states. On Monday, they called on Secretary of State Mike Coffman to automatically register people who have provided a Social Security number but didn’t check the box. They said Coffman also could take other steps, including letting people complete their forms at early voting locations. They estimate that about 10,000 voters in the state could be affected.
“With such a close election, this many votes will have an impact,” said Jenny Flanagan, executive director of Colorado Common Cause, one of eight state and local groups that sent a letter to Coffman asking for changes.
Coffman’s office stands behind the form, which spokesman Rich Coolidge said was changed by Colorado lawmakers in 2006 at the advice of the federal Elections Assistance Commission.
Coolidge said clerks are sending out letters to all voters with incomplete forms, including those with empty boxes, advising them that they need to complete their forms. He said voters will be able to fix their forms at early voting locations as long as it’s at the clerk’s office or a satellite location, such as a motor vehicle office, staffed by county clerk workers.
If they don’t get word of the problem or can’t fix it before going to the polls, these voters will still be able to cast provisional ballots, he said.
Provisional ballots aren’t included in the unofficial count of votes released on election night but are counted in the following days once election officials can verify that they were cast by eligible voters. Coolidge said people with incomplete registrations are being listed in the state’s new voter registration database and their eligibility can still be checked later.
Sarah Brannon of the Fair Elections Legal Network, a nonpartisan network of election lawyers based in Washington, said the provisional backup isn’t a complete guarantee because the law isn’t clear on whether election workers can use the Social Security database to check voter eligibility after an election.
She said voters who have already provided a Social Security number to verify identity shouldn’t be kept from voting with a regular ballot because of a formality. Brannon said that registration forms of other states she’s reviewed tell voters that if they don’t have state IDs, they can provide their Social Security numbers. Those forms don’t ask for an affirmation that those voters don’t have state IDs.
In the letter to Coffman, Brannon’s group, Common Cause and others including the ACLU and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, allege that Colorado’s approach conflicts with the federal “motor voter” law as well as the Voting Rights Act, which says people can’t be barred from voting because of an “error or omission” on registration forms.
As of Monday, Coolidge said 6,462 applications have been labeled as incomplete because of an unchecked box. A total of 22,161 forms have been labeled as incomplete for a range of reasons, including a birthdate or address that doesn’t match with state records. So far, more than 300,000 voter registration forms have been processed this year.
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