In the final days before the November 6 election, two of the more controversial organizations working to prevent fraud and help enforce laws are spreading misinformation that could lead to voter intimidation throughout the state. That's the charge of Common Cause, an organization that's issued warnings about True the Vote (whose voter's guide, on view below, includes the illustration seen here) and Colorado Voter Protection.
Common Cause representatives say they are worried that these organizations are promoting false information that could create unnecessary conflict and even chaos at the polls.
Concerns about voter suppression or intimidation in Colorado, where the race will be decided by a tiny margin of voters, have been especially high this election season, centered on some of the initiatives of Secretary of State Scott Gessler, a Republican, who has worked to remove illegal voters from the rolls.
True the Vote is a conservative anti-fraud organization that has gotten some national attention for its efforts to scrutinize the validity of voter registration rolls and voters who appear at the polls. The group is said to be focused on swing states. (Gessler recently appeared at an event with True the Vote).
Locally, a nonprofit organization called Colorado Voter Protection has been partnering with True the Vote and using some of its training tools in preparation for election day.
This week, Common Cause, a left-leaning advocacy group that has clashed with Gessler on different issues this election season, sent a letter to Gessler, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers and U.S. Attorney John Walsh, alerting them to what they are believe are a series of potentially harmful errors in True the Vote's "Colorado Poll Watcher Training" guide. The 47-page document, which says, "Advocate free and fair elections in 2012!" on its front page, features information for poll watchers.
The letter from Common Cause, also seen below, goes point-by-point through different rules and laws suggested in the pamphlet, arguing how the instructions are misleading and, in some cases, downright incorrect.
"It's a real concern that they are training their poll watchers with incorrect information about Colorado law," says Elena Nuñez, executive director of Colorado Common Cause. "We could see challenges that are not allowed in Colorado law that could create a threatening or intimidating environment at the polls."
Nuñez's letter, which includes ten different "corrections" needed for the True the Vote material, focuses on what rights voters have at the polls, and also what poll watchers are and aren't allowed to do.
One she sees as especially concerning appears in the "What to Watch For" section. It reads: "At the check-in area, watch to ensure that voters are presenting the ID required by your state law and that the Election Workers are checking the address on the ID against the address in the voter book/poll book/online record."
Nuñez's correction says: "With the limited exception of the documents listed in CRS §1-1-104(19.5)(VII), Colorado law is clear that there is no requirement that an address on a form of ID match the voter's address in the poll book."
She tells us many voters could have addresses on their licenses that don't match their current address -- if they moved, for example -- and that shouldn't block them from voting.
"You could potentially see voters turned away who are showing legitimate types of ID," she says. "It could create a really chaotic environment."
Nuñez says she is also worried about a line in the training guideline that says, "Election officials, voters, and qualified electors assisting disabled or non-English speaking voters may be present in the voting area," since, as she writes in her letter, "Any person who is assisting a voter with disabilities or a non-English speaking voter may be present in the voting areas, whether or not the person providing assistance is a 'qualified elector.'"
Another fact that jumped out to her "What to Watch For" section is one that says poll watchers should make sure that election workers are comparing signatures against the ID presented or against the voter book signatures on record.
She writes: "Nowhere does Colorado law require that a signature on a form of ID produced at the polling place match any signature of the voter or that election judges perform any sort of signature match at the polling place."
Continue for response from Colorado Voter Protection and for the full documents. Calls to a True the Vote public relations director were not returned. However, we did reach Jeff Kelly, the founder of Colorado Voter Protection, which Common Cause also mentions in its letter. Kelly tells us he founded that nonprofit group in June to help fight fraud in the election and has been using True the Vote tools in its trainings with hundreds of poll watchers who will be dispatched throughout the state.
Kelly insists that his organization and the tools provided by True the Vote are dedicated to promoting laws at the polls. He says he is an unaffiliated voter and that his group is a civic nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to ensuring fair and legal elections.
"Our plans are to train as many citizens that want to be involved in ensuring we have an accurate election," says Kelly, 52, of Longmont.
He adds, "It's pretty basic stuff.... It's just a matter of making sure that the election is conducted according to law."
He says that he wants everyone to feel good about the election at the end of the day.
"The high level goal of the organization is to have enough people involved in the election that we feel really confident...that there were no problems and that everyone conducted the election according to law," he says. "So that when we're done, we have very high confidence in the results."
When we reached him by phone yesterday, Kelly had not yet seen this letter from Common Cause. After we forwarded the letter to him, he responded with the following via e-mail:
I am glad to have received the information from Common Cause and am forwarding that e-mail to my volunteers as corrections/additions to their earlier training.
I'm not thrilled with the hostile tone in the letter, but I guess that's how some people feel they have to operate. If Common Cause is truly interested in free and fair elections, then they should join this civic effort rather than fight it.
Kelly says he thinks the Secretary of State's office has discussed issues with True the Vote and the Denver Elections Commission has reviewed and commented on the training document, indicating places in the "generic" section that don't apply to Colorado.
(Rich Coolidge, a spokesman from Gessler's office tells us that they have seen the letter, but adds, "We can't weigh into every disagreement between third-party groups. We're working to put the election together.")
Nuñez says she is not sure what to expect from True the Vote and its poll watchers on election day, but wants to remind everyone that they should not be afraid to go to the polls.
"This is an important election and Colorado is getting a lot of attention -- good and bad," she says. "Voters should be energized by that and take action to participate and not let the possibility of suppression activities keep them back.... The best way to fight back is to vote."
Colorado Common Cause letter to Scott Gessler, John Suthers and John Walsh in regard to True the Vote:
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We write to request your immediate attention to the poll watcher training activities of "True the Vote" and "Colorado Voter Protection."Put simply, True the Vote's Colorado training materials provide incorrect and misleading guidance about Colorado law and voting procedures.Colorado poll watchers that rely on the erroneous "training" in True the Vote's poll watcher manual pose a grave risk of fostering an unlawful environment of confusion, hostility and intimidation. Worse, these ill-trained poll watchers could block eligible Coloradans from voting regular ballots and having them counted as cast.It is critical that you protect eligible Colorado voters from the potentially suppressive tactics of poll watchers relying on True the Vote's Colorado Poll Watcher training manual. The errors are numerous and serious. At your immediate convenience, please provide county election officials with guidance that properly interprets Colorado law in light of these training materials to ensure all election administrators in Colorado train their staff and election workers to follow the law.We also call on you to enforce Colorado law and take action as necessary to protect voters from unlawful challenges.The document, "True the Vote Colorado Poll Watcher Training," is enclosed.
Here are some of the statements from the training manual that are wrong. The bulleted statements are taken directly from the training manual; the sub-bullet point provides our suggested response.
• Statement, Page 26 "The Election Clerk repeats the voter's name, looks up the voter'sname in the poll book or voter list...."
o Correction: There is no requirement under Colorado law for an "Election Clerk"to repeat a voter's name.
• Statement: Page 26 [Under "Voting Area"]: "Election officials, voters, and qualified electors assisting disabled or non-English speaking voters may be present in the voting area."
o Correction Any person who is assisting a voter with disabilities or a non-English speaking voter may be present in the voting areas, whether or not the person providing assistance is a "qualified elector."
• Statement: Page 26 [Under "Voter Check-In"]: "Identification means a valid Colorado driver's license, a valid identification card issued by the department of revenue, a valid United States passport, a[sic] employee photo identification card issued by the federal,state, county or municipal government, a valid pilot's license issued by the FAA or other authorized United States agency, a valid US military identification with a photo of the elector, a copy of a current utility bill or other government statement that shows the name and address of the elector, a valid medicare or medicaid card, a certified copy of a birth certificate, certified documentation of naturalization, valid student ID from a Colorado institute of higher learning, or verification that an individual resides at a group residential facility". These statements are again repeated, incorrectly, on page 27.
o Correction Colorado law also permits the use of a valid veteran identification card issued by the United States department of veterans affairs/veterans health administration with a photograph of the eligible elector, as well as a valid identification card issued by a federally recognized tribal government certifying tribal membership. In addition, a registered voter may use a bank statement,government check or paycheck that shows the name and address of the elector.
• Statements: Page 29 [Under "Electronic Ballots"]: "If a voter leaves before casting their ballot, Election Workers should try to find the voter before they leave the area ... . If the voter has left the area, the Election Workers should cancel the ballot, according to state procedure."
Page 36 [Under "What to Watch For"]: "If the voter has left the voting area,Election Workers are supposed to cancel the ballot ... ."
o Correction: This is completely contrary to Colorado law. Colorado Election Rule 47.2 is clear that if a voter leaves the voting area without completing the voting process, two judges of different affiliation shall to the extent possible, cover the voter's choices, and cast the ballot as the voter left it.
• Statement: Page 31 [Under "Absentee/Mail-In Ballots"]: "Not all polling places are authorized to handle absentee/mail-in ballots. Generally, a [sic] absentee/mail-in ballot is brought to a poll when a voter who has received a mail-in ballot decides instead to vote at a polling place. If your state allows polls to accept absentee/mail-in ballots, then the general process to address the situation is as follows: the Election Worker must call the Election Administrator to report the absentee/mail-in ballot, then cancel the absentee/mail-in ballot, according to state procedure, before the voter can vote in person."
o Correction Colorado law allows mail-in ballots to be surrendered at any pollinglocation and the voter is given a ballot to vote in person without any need to callan Election Administrator. It is also the law in Colorado that all polling placesmust accept mail-in ballots that have been voted.
• Statement: Page 31 [Under "Voters Needing Assistance"]: "A disabled elector for reasons of blindness, inability to read or write, or other physical disability may request assistance from an election judge or other qualified elector.....No one providing assistance for non-English sepakers [sic] shall be permitted to assist more than one voter unless they are a relative of the elector or if they are a judge or appointed by a judge."
o Correction: A voter with disabilities is entitled to assistance from an election judge or any person of their own choosing, whether or not that person is a qualified elector. In addition, there is no limit on the number of voters that a person can assist, assuming they have been asked by the voter to provide assistance. This is true both for voters with disabilities as well as voters needing language assistance.
• Statement -- Page 34 [Under "Challenging Voters or Absentee/Mail-In Ballots"]: "If called for, the Poll Supervisor or Assistant may ask the challenged voter to produce additional identification directly related to your challenge."
o Correction: Colorado law is clear that once the challenged voter satisfactorily answers the questions posed by the election judge and signs the oath, no further proof of any kind is required, and the voter may cast a regular ballot. See Colo.Rev. Stat. § 1-9-203(7).
• Statement -- Page 35 [Under "What to Watch For"]: "At the check-in area, watch toensure that voters are presenting the ID required by your state law and that the ElectionWorkers are checking the address on the ID against the address in the voter book/pollbook/online record."
o Correction: With the limited exception of the documents listed in CRS §1-1-104(19.5)(VII), Colorado law is clear that there is no requirement that an address on a form of ID match the voter's address in the poll book.
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