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Mike Coffman's clumsy handling of the New York Times voter purge story

Mike Coffman.
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To their credit, both Denver dailies followed up on a New York Times report naming Colorado one of six states that have purged thousands of voters from the rolls in apparent violation of federal law -- read the Rocky Mountain News' coverage here and the Denver Post's here. Not that they could have ignored it. Secretary of State Mike Coffman held a news conference in an attempt to explain away claims by the Times that the state has dumped over 37,000 names since late July -- a total that far exceeded the number of deaths or people who moved out of state during the period. Although he admitted that north of 2,000 duplicate voters were deep-sixed within ninety days of the election in apparent violation of the National Voter Registration Act, he contended that the Times' figures were severely inflated, and he could be right. However, he and his staff missed an opportunity to prevent much of the confusion, and a lot of the damage, by replying to the Times' request for comment in advance of publication. Coffman chalked this up to what the Rocky described as "miscommunication between the Times and his office."

Miscommunication? That's something in which Coffman seems to specialize, particularly when it comes to voting.

Recall that late last year, Coffman cavalierly banned many of the electronic voting machines used throughout the state, sending county officials into a panic. Then, the following February, he abruptly reversed course in the face of complaints, recertifying many of the gadgets he'd found wanting a few short months earlier. The back and forths couldn't help but undermine voter confidence. Did Coffman overreact in the first place? Or are the machines a legitimate problem bound to create the sort of election day havoc many of us experienced in 2004 and 2006? And if the latter, did Coffman simply cave to pressure from peers throughout the state who didn't have or couldn't afford to put viable alternatives in place? We still don't know for certain -- which explains in part why so many Coloradans are opting for mail-in ballots this year.

Coffman will be elected to Congress this November. As noted in this blog, he's running in a district that's virtually impossible for a Republican to lose -- the one that's sent Tom Tancredo to Washington, D.C. time and again over recent years. That prospect's a little frightening given some of his public clumsiness. John McCain keeps talking about needing politicians who can maintain a steady hand on the tiller -- but Coffman's steering often seems mighty erratic. -- Michael Roberts

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