Colorado's minor political parties have banded together to express major gripes with new rules from Secretary of State Scott Gessler -- rules that the groups say create conflicts of interest and threaten to undermine the integrity of upcoming elections.
The secretary of state's office listened to hours and hours of testimony Monday afternoon at a hearing on new rules, with representatives of the American Constitution, Libertarian and Green parties telling Gessler they believe some of the proposals could lead to unfair election processes for the minority parties, which are becoming an increasing presence in the Colorado political landscape.
Gary Johnson, Libertarian presidential candidate, in Colorado last month.
These complaints, which we first reported about on Monday, get at the most nitty-gritty aspects of Colorado's elections, addressing the minutia of the voting process that many on the outside probably don't much care about or understand. But leaders of these parties say that at least one of the rules will make it difficult for the folks in power to be held accountable in a fair, unbiased way.
Their main focus? The so-called "canvass boards" that essentially serve as auditors in a process run by county clerks. Under Gessler's proposed rule change, county clerks pick board members for the minor political parties.
In the parties' view, that creates a conflict of interest by allowing the clerks to essentially "rubber stamp" their own agenda. They say the rule won't allow minor parties to have a meaningful role in monitoring the actions of the county clerks.
"You can't have the clerks appointing someone to a body that's supposed to be...auditing the clerk," says Bill Bartlett, chairman of the Colorado State Green Party. "That is my main concern."
Bartlett attended the hearing and says the turnout was very high -- standing room only in the beginning, though the crowd dwindled as the five-hour event dragged on.
Prior to this rule change, minor parties did not have members on the canvass boards, says, Rich Coolidge, spokesman for the Secretary of State. So this step brings them into the process, he says.
"The suggestion was to provide a pathway for them [minority parties] to serve on the canvas board," Coolidge says. "If that's not the direction some of the minority parties want to go, we'll weigh that as part of the decision."
The Secretary of State will be receiving public comment through this Friday and then will make a final decision on these and other rules in the near future, Coolidge says. "We appreciate everyone who came out and provided some information...and reaction to the suggested rules."
When asked why minor-party chairs wouldn't be allowed to appoint members to the canvass boards in a similar way to major parties, Coolidge says it could be an issue with the way the language in the rule was worded. He added that the Secretary of State will take feedback from the parties into consideration.
Page down to read more reactions from other minority parties. "The point is, who do the elections belong to?" asks Doug Campbell, state chairman of the American Constitution Party, which is now a major political party because of Tom Tancredo's strong finish in the last governor's race. "Our contention is that elections belong to the people, not the government."
How could this rule change directly impact a party outside of the Democrats and Republicans?
Campbell explains it this way: "Let's say, for example, the county clerk wants her buddy Fred Jones to be on the canvas board.... She could say, 'Fred, I want you to change your voter registration to the American Constitution Party, so I can appoint you to the canvass board.... We'll have the canvas board be our little inside deal.'"
Adds Jeff Orrok, state chair of the Libertarian Party of Colorado, "The principle of the canvass board is to provide a confirmation and audit that the election was conducted correctly, and...if a county clerk, for whatever reason, wants to cover up any kind of...mistake, or if there's something that didn't go well, and they are just trying to avoid embarrassment, they could simply get people on the canvass board.... They would get a rubber stamp to let it go through without any actual scrutiny."
This kind of conflict would come into play if there was a need for a recount, for example.
Orrok thinks the Secretary of State probably has good intentions. But he feels this rule wouldn't allow the canvass board to have a meaningful impact.
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"It's nice that they'd like to include minor parties," he says. "But you've kind of lost the rigor you want to have...with people who just kind of go along with what the county clerks want."
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