Out of fourteen illegal voters banned after Scott Gessler's campaign, how many voted? Zero
Update: Yesterday, we reported that a total of fourteen people were removed from Colorado voting rolls following an extensive effort by Secretary of State Scott Gessler to potentially illegal voters; see our original post in its entirety below.
Since sharing these results, we checked with Gessler's office to find out how many of these fourteen actually voted. The answer turns out to be none.
Gessler spokesman Rich Coolidge tells us that the records of these individuals indicate none have any voting history. Gessler's office does, however, have records of others who have allegedly voted illegally -- since they've admitted on forms that they are non-citizens and yet have still voted. But this is not the case with these fourteen.
When Gessler's office originally announced that 141 individuals were illegally registered, they said that 35 of them had a voting history. It would appear that the fourteen ultimately removed -- though there could be more in the final weeks before Election Day -- were not a part of those 35.
These results have not dissuaded Gessler from trying to find additional scofflaws. Read about it in today's post "Scott Gessler's office running checks on thousands of more potential non-citizens."
See our previous coverage below.
Original post, 11:02 a.m. October 11: Yesterday, Secretary of State Scott Gessler celebrated the end of voter registration with a press conference announcing the success of his campaign encouraging residents to sign up -- more on that below. But first, the results of the other Gessler effort, which focused on weeding out illegal voters. After working with the federal government and a facing an onslaught of negative headlines, Gessler's office has a count from across the state of those removed from voter rolls: fourteen.
We reported last month that in Denver County, Gessler's latest anti-fraud initiative resulted in four illegal voters being removed. And on Tuesday, the final day of registration, Scott Gessler spokesman Rich Coolidge gave us numbers for counties across the state: Three were removed in Adams County, three in El Paso County, two in Garfield County, one in La Plata County, one in Jefferson County and the aforementioned four in Denver. That makes fourteen.
Scott Gessler talking to reporters at a press conference yesterday.
Let's do a quick recap of the process that led to the removal of these fourteen individuals -- the result of Gessler's most recent initiative to clean up voter rolls.
Back in August, Gessler sent letters to nearly 4,000 registered voters asking them to prove they are citizens. The letter recepients were potentially illegal voters, because they had at some point presented proof of non-citizenship, such as using a green card or VISA to get a license at the DMV. Critics at the time argued that the letters might intimidate voters and could very well be sent to legal voters who had recently become citizens.
Later that month, Gessler's office announced that of the 3,903 who received the original letters, 1,011 voters moved with no forwarding address and 482 successfully affirmed their citizenship. Additionally, sixteen voluntarily withdrew their registrations. (We spoke to one legal citizen who got the letter and was not happy about it).
In a separate action, the Secretary of State's office also ran the names of 1,416 voters who had an "alien identification number on file with the DMV" through the Department of Homeland Security's Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements database to confirm their citizenship. In September, Gessler's office released an update on the investigation, announcing that 10 percent of that group, or 141, aren't citizens -- at least, according to that federal database. Gessler lamented that his office only recently got access to the federal resource, giving them very little time to address the problem posed by those illegal voters. He then sent those names to county clerks with instructions on how to challenge them.
Of those 141 sent to county clerks, we know that fourteen have been removed. That's about 10 percent of the total flagged by the federal database, which was 10 percent of the names that ran through that system. And fourteen is 0.00038 percent of the roughly 3.6 million voters now registered in the state.
Opponents of Gessler, a Republican, argue that this effort should not have been such a big priority of his office -- with his harshest critics saying that he is motivated by partisan efforts to discourage non-Republicans from voting.
But Gessler and his team argue that there's no solid proof the other 127 voters out of the 141 flagged are legal, eligible voters. Gessler says that his office just didn't have enough time to address the problem -- a very serious problem, he believes, given that the federal government has said they aren't citizens.
While officials like Denver County Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson argue that they've verified the eligibility of those sent their way -- except for the ones they've removed -- Gessler's office argues that those clerks don't have any way to definitively confirm that the federal government is wrong and the voters are actually citizens.
Continue for more on Gessler's voter registration results. We asked Gessler -- before he chowed down on some Filipino food at a food truck stop on Tuesday -- for his assessment on the success of this effort to weed out illegal voters.
Scott Gessler with Kathy Gietl, a food truck owner featured in one of his registration advertisements.
"Overall, it went okay," he said. "Obviously, I would've preferred we had better cooperation from the federal government early on. So that was sort of a bit of a handicap.... It's been really good in the sense that it's revealed some real vulnerabilities in the system -- people who are erroneously registered."
He continued, "I've tried very hard to take an administrative approach to it and just make sure our voter rolls are accurate. I think the fact that we've had some good success here...that it's raised the issue, I think we're going to have better voter rolls in the future."
Repeating the line he uses consistently when questioned about this effort, he said, "You want to make it easy to vote, tough to cheat. So we've spent a lot of time on the easy-to-vote side and we're spending time on the tough to cheat. And I say 'cheat' -- whether it's fraud, or a mistake, abuse. But I think the bottom line is, you've gotta look at both sides if you're gonna...say that we feel comfortable with our elections."
Was he hoping to catch more individuals illegally registered and actually remove them?
"I didn't go into it with any preconceived notions along those lines," he said. "I didn't go in saying I want a big number or I want a small number. I went in saying, look, we've got a vulnerability. We don't know what the heck is going on. Let's find out what's going on. We obviously found there's a problem with the limited databases, limited sources we've had, we've identified some issues. And hopefully over time, we'll just get better at figuring this stuff out. And if that results in a big number or a small number, I'm not worried about that. I want to make sure that it's the right number."
Still, his critics say, the priorities of his office are just wrong.
"We never thought it was gonna be a big number, but I hope that Gessler pays attention to this," says Denise Maes, public policy director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, pointing out that he has a lot of other concerns he should be focusing on. "It's a disproportionate amount of time spent on a very small problem, especially relative to all the other issues going on in his office."
Maes says that she supports efforts to eliminate fraud, but feels Gessler is devoting too many resources to it.
Continue for more on Gessler's voter registration results. Gessler's ease-of-registration line now has numbers to back it up. At least that was the message of his press conference yesterday, in which he told reporters that his office has played a big role in helping break records, with 3,611,061 individuals now registered to vote in Colorado -- a number which he says will only grow as they finish processing a backlog of registrations.
Scott Gessler, next to graph showing huge spike in online visits in the final days of registration.
"Today, we have a solid 10 percent...more registered voters," Gessler told reporters. "Colorado did not grow 10 percent in the last four years.... I think what contributed to this increase was the fact that the Secretary of State's office spent a million dollars in targeted, effective ads in the mail to encourage people to register to vote. And the Secretary of State's office made it incredibly easy for people to register to vote.... And I think this is a spectacular success story.... At the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding."
Gessler says there were 3,203,583 registered voters in 2008 and 3,296,953 in 2010. Now, with 3.6 million eligible to vote in the upcoming presidential election, which is likely to be decided by a very small margin of voters, these new registrants could play an important role in determining the next president.
Since August 31, there have been 1,167,190 visits to the voter registration website and 229,283 submissions online -- which could translate to a new registration or an update to an existing one. Gessler directly attributes these numbers to the launch of his ad campaign at the beginning of September.
He also says that the state is a model nationally for online registration systems.
"Colorado is a leader in online voter registration," he said. "I believe this is one of, if not the most sophisticated in the country."
He did face backlash, however, for problems with the site on the final day to register -- and explained that the website was overloaded at times.
"We got hit by a lot of traffic," Gessler said, explaining that there were about two-and-a-half hours when the website was performing far below expectations. "Those problems were solved quickly. We succeeded in solving them and making sure people could register to vote... or change their information."
There were 162,713 visits to the site on Tuesday -- and seventeen very serious procrastinators who either registered to vote or changed their information at 11:59 p.m., the final minute before the deadline passed.
Gessler touts Colorado's approach. "The unique aspect is, we've combined an online voter registration system with the tools to encourage people to use it -- a very aggressive ad campaign."
Continue for graphs on voter registrations and website visits from Gessler's office. 20121010 Sos Pressconference Materials
More from our Politics archive: "Rick Enstrom, House candidate, shocked rival Max Tyler calls paraphernalia-bust claim true"
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Westword's biggest stories.