Schmuck of the Week

Mike Coffman, repeat Shmuck, wants to make it harder for Spanish speakers to vote

U.S. Representative Mike Coffman is no stranger to voter suppression. In fact, the 6th District Republican lawmaker has a long history of tinkering with elections.

His latest campaign would make it more difficult for people who don't speak English well to vote across the country. In Colorado, that mostly means Spanish speakers -- Spanish speakers who are U.S. citizens, by the way.

The right to vote, of course, is one of the most precious, fundamental rights that Americans have, one that certain groups of people -- blacks, women -- had to fight for decades to achieve, and one that immigrants line up at our borders to gain.

Here are the specifics: Coffman plans to introduce a bill that would repeal a portion of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act. Implemented in 1975, this portion requires counties and other jurisdictions with large groups of non-proficient English speakers to print dual-language ballots so that those people can better understand them. You'll remember that the point of the Voting Rights Act was to keep states -- and lawmakers -- from imposing any "voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure... to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color."

Why did it have to be put into effect? Because racist and manipulative politics have been around for a long time -- and apparently they still are.

Coffman, a previous Westword Shmuck of the Week in 2008 and 2010, has called the requirement an unfunded federal mandate that counties have to pay for on their own. In Colorado, ten counties currently print bilingual ballots, while another sixteen may have to do the same thing for the 2012 elections.

But is it really about money? Of course not. In 2008, when he was still Colorado Secretary of State, Coffman had to be ordered by a judge to stop deleting names from Colorado's voting rolls, and he would gladly keep Spanish speakers -- who, again, are U.S. citizens -- from voting as well, especially since they tend to lean Democratic.

Is it unfunded federal mandate? No. If you live in a county where it snows a lot, the county government plows the roads. If you live in a county with a lot of crime, the government hires more police officers. And if you live in a county where a lot of citizens speak another language, you print ballots in that language.

Elected officials are supposed to represent their constituents, to respond to their needs and to allocate funding in a way that serves those people.

Coffman plans to do the opposite.

Which part of the Voting Rights Act will he go after next?

More from our Shmuck archive: "William Loomis, our shmuck of the week, would like you to get a job."

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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes