Earlier this month, Secretary of State Scott Gessler asked nearly 4,000 registered voters to prove that they are citizens as part of an effort, he said, to prevent fraud. The results are now in and one in eight voters who showed a non-citizen document to the Division of Motor Vehicles remain ineligible. That's how Gessler's office presents its findings.
Put another way: Thousands of registered voters who received letters asking to prove their citizenship or remove themselves from voter rolls are citizens.
Watchdog groups, and some of the legal citizens who actually received the letter, say this is clear proof that Gessler, a Republican, seems to be engaged in possible voter suppression efforts targeting recent immigrants -- or at the very least, they charge, he is spending a lot of energy on what is essentially a non-issue.
Here's a basic breakdown of the numbers: Gessler sent the letter, on view below, to 3,903 individuals who are registered to vote but are listed as non-citizens through the Division of Motor Vehicles (which critics say is a flawed assumption to begin with, since immigrants could have gotten a license with the DMV and since become a citizen).
Of those nearly 4,000, Gessler's office says 1,011 voters moved with no forwarding address and 482 of them successfully affirmed their citizenship.
Only 16 voluntarily withdrew their registrations.
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. Of that batch, 177 still require additional verification from the federal government to confirm their citizenship status -- giving Gessler's office the "one out of eight" number they emphasized in the press release. (And 42 of those voters, Gessler says, have voted in Colorado elections).
But that means at least 1,239 of those who received letters are, based on information from the federal agency, legal citizens eligible to vote.
A spokesman for Gessler tells us that at this stage, the Department of Homeland Security will make a determination about those 177 individuals, and if the federal agency comes back to Gessler with information affirming that they are not citizens, the Secretary of State will send a follow-up letter -- this one again asking them to withdraw from the voter rolls or submit proof of citizenship.
Addressing expected backlash, here's part of Gessler's statement on the numbers:
Each of these residents helps improve the integrity of our voter rolls and increases voter confidence across the state. While some prefer to fan partisan flames and score political points, these residents share an interest in ensuring only eligible voters are casting ballots.
The Colorado branch of the American Civil Liberties Union says that legally registered voters who received the letters have been contacting them, concerned that they might have trouble voting come November.
"You have to question his motivation," says Denise Maes, public policy director at the ACLU of Colorado. "When you have this many state resources put into a non-problem, it's very, very troubling."
Continue reading for comments from a citizen who received the letter. Maes, who says that they've spoken to around thirty individuals who received the letter and are citizens, insists that the issue isn't a partisan one for the ACLU.
"This is about the right to vote and making sure it's not infringed," she says. "It's part of a national strategy him and other governors and secretaries of states [have taken]...even though they have no substantiation of proof."
Is the issue a partisan one for Gessler? Turns out he's in Tampa right now, having attended the just-concluded Republican National Convention as a delegate.
By the way, the AP and the Denver Post reported earlier this week that only around 12 percent of those who received letters were Republicans.
In a key swing state like Colorado, which could determine the next president of the United States, concerns about voter suppression have added significance.
"They are intimidating people to not bother voting," says Samantha Meiring, who was born in South Africa and moved to the United States in 2000.
She received one of Gessler's letters.
"I do think there is a bit of a partisan bias to it. Immigrants largely tend to vote Democratic or not Republican," she says. "Why are they targeting this particular group?"
From Gessler's statement about these numbers: "We identified a vulnerability, and this effort helps protect our elections. When some races hinge on just a handful of votes, every vote counts. My goal is to make it easy to vote, but tough to cheat."
Meiring, a 37-year-old Firestone resident who has been a citizen since March of 2010, says that she was pretty taken aback by the letter.
"I was surprised and kind of angry," she says. "I've already voted before. I registered to vote legally. I fulfilled all the requirements at that time to vote."
Meiring, who works as a data manager, says that because the election is just two months away, she is concerned about the impact Gessler's efforts could have on voters who are legally registered.
"You get this official letter from the Secretary of State's office and it's really intimidating," she says. "I just really have to question the way they are going about this and the timing of it."
Adds Maes: "It's pathetic that they have to yet again go through another hurdle and prove they are legitimate voters."
Here's the original letter:
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