Yesterday, state Republicans killed a bill that sought to make it a felony-level crime to intentionally mislead citizens about voting information during an election. Known as the Fairness in Voting bill, it came under political fire during its tenure in the legislation over accusations that it was an unnecessary effort already outlined, at least in part, by current laws. Those who disapproved argued occurrences of the crime are so few and far between that additional efforts at prevention are unwarranted.
But Gilbert Ortiz, who tracked one account first hand, disagrees. The Pueblo county clerk and recorder added his testimony to yesterday's hearing for the bill in the House judiciary committee.
During the 2008 election, Ortiz received a puzzling phone call from a citizen asking him why her polling place had been changed the night before she was scheduled to visit it. But it hadn't.
The following day, Gilbert and other voting workers fielded hundreds of similar calls, which eventually led him to believe that an individual or group had specifically targeted Pueblo's elderly Hispanic community to keep members from voting. Although Ortiz says the confusion has not repeated since, it increased his support of Senate Bill 147's attack on voter suppression.
The bill was championed by Democrat Angela Williams in the House and by Democrat Irene Aguilar in the Senate, where it passed after three readings. Intended to take action in time for this year's elections, 147 lasted only briefly in the House before expiring yesterday.
The measure's supporters emphasized its creation of firmer penalties for those who intentionally propagate false voting information, as it called for a class-five felony that could earn guilty parties up to three years in prison and $100,000 in fines. But in yesterday's hearing, a different fee won out: The bill's opposition argued that monitoring the offense would unload an unnecessary burden of both money and paperwork onto the state. In addition, the differences between voter fraud and voter suppression came up repeatedly.
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"What I heard from the committee today is that voter fraud is a more serious crime than voter suppression, even though I'd say suppression is easier to do and can be just as effective, with the same result of a swayed election," Ortiz says. "In Pueblo County, we don't know how many people were confused so much that they were frustrated and couldn't vote. We know exactly how many people accidentally or purposely voted twice, but voter suppression is hard to gauge."
Ortiz worries that law enforcement officials are less likely to pursue offenders under current laws, which regulate the crime as a misdemeanor. In the meantime, the crime is already illegal in Colorado, albeit under different standards than those designated by the bill.
More from our Politics archive: "Voter misinformation bill a tool to use against fraud, says Colorado Common Cause."