In addition to facing criminal and ethics investigations into his alleged misuse of public dollars, Secretary of State Scott Gessler has spent months responding to criticisms that he has intimidated voters with his anti-fraud crusade. And just a week before the race, his staff got a hold of a document, on view below, they say is further evidence that stopping fraudulent votes is a worthwhile cause.
It's a letter from a Canadian immigrant who successfully registered to vote even though the individual checked a "non-citizen" box.
As part of his office's effort to prevent illegal votes from being cast, Gessler, the state's chief election officer, identified thousands of individuals who successfully registered to vote but could in fact be non-citizens, based on records at the Division of Motor Vehicles. In August, he sent letters asking them to prove that they are citizens or remove themselves from the voter rolls. He also cross-checked their names with a federal database of immigration records and sent follow-up letters to those who were registered in Colorado but were not American citizens -- at least according to national records.
Gessler, a Republican, says this initiative is about stopping fraud, closing loopholes that allow non-citizens to register, making voter rolls more accurate and increasing awareness about voting laws. His critics say the project has amounted to nothing more than a wild goose chase that relies on out-of-date records and has only managed to scare and confuse legitimate voters, especially those who recently became U.S citizens.
In an interview on election day, Gessler told us, "It's educating people on who can and can't vote and making sure we don't lead people astray into breaking the law, because that's really sort of what it's about."
Gessler said there is nothing intimidating about cleaning up the voter rolls, adding that fraud is a serious problem in his view. As Secretary of State, his mantra has been that he wants to make it "easy to vote and tough to cheat."
And post-election, his staffers are sharing what they say is solid proof that cheating could easily take place in Colorado -- or at least that inadvertent illegal votes from confused immigrants could get counted at the polls.
The October 31 letter was sent by a Canadian immigrant to Debra Johnson, the clerk and recorder with the Denver Elections Division. Gessler representatives believe the note nicely illustrates the need for preventative measures.
Here's an excerpt from the letter, seen in its entirety after the jump:
I was approached by a voter registration volunteer at a mall recently, and she informed me that as a legal resident of Colorado, having lived here for many years, I was eligible to vote in local elections but not national ones. I was sure she was wrong, but at her insistence, I filled out a brief application, which she described as merely a request that would answer my doubts one way or the other. I did check the box stating I was not a citizen, and expected to hear further (that I was not eligible), but instead received the enclosed card.
The letter makes it clear to the Secretary of State exactly how non-citizen residents might accidentally sign up to vote -- by not realizing that if they do vote, it would be a criminal act.
In the past, this kind of documentation hasn't quieted his critics, who say improperly registered immigrants remain a tiny problem that in no way deserves the attention Gessler has given it. Voter rights groups also argue that in many of these cases are a result of clerical errors. These individuals aren't maliciously trying to commit fraud and are usually well aware that it would be a crime to vote, they believe. (Example: Of the fourteen voters removed from voter rolls in an initial round of checks this year, none had voted in past elections).
Gessler's team has shared supportive evidence with us in the past, but this letter stands out, because the individual wound up on the voter's rolls even though he or she checked a "non-citizen" box. Gessler's staff sees it as evidence that voter registration volunteers need better training to avoid this kind of error.
A Secretary of State's office spokesman adds that because of the letter's timing, its author was not flagged in the Secretary of State's voter roll checks in the months leading up to election day -- meaning that serious loopholes in the system need to be addressed, in Gessler's opinion.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
More from our Politics archive: "Election day in Colorado: How did it stack up on voter-review site My Fair Election?"