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Mike Coffman's office blinks -- sort of -- in disenfranchised voters lawsuit

Colorado Common Cause's Jenny Flanagan during an appearance on CBS4. (Her name is misspelled in the station graphic.)

The main headline on today's Denver Post front page reads "A Win For Purged Voters" -- and that's true to a point. Colorado Common Cause, Mi Familia Vota and a number of other organizations sued Secretary of State Mike Coffman over his office's decision to strike over 30,000 names from voter rolls within ninety days of the election, in apparent violation of federal law -- and before U.S. District Judge John Kane could rule, opposing attorneys and representatives brokered a deal that allows the individuals impacted to cast ballots on November 4. The result is a defeat for Coffman and the Colorado Secretary of State's office, which has been under fire for what BBC journalist Greg Palast, co-author of a highly critical Rolling Stone article about election issues, calls "a block-and-purge operation." (Read an interview with Palast, and follow links to associated stories, by clicking here.) But the compromise allows state officials to save face to at least a modest degree and adds a level of difficulty to legitimate voters on the aforementioned list that they don't deserve to undergo.

Specifically, the voters in question will be able to use a provisional ballot rather than the regular kind. Then, the day after the election, the state will come up with a list of everyone whose names were stripped from the voting roster since mid-May; it will be available for both sides to eyeball. According to the agreement, "Voters on the list shall be presumed to be eligible and their ballots will be counted. Only upon a showing by clear and convincing evidence that a voter is not eligible shall a provisional ballot be rejected by the county."

That's a good thing -- but, of course, all of this will take place after non-provisional ballots are tallied, at a time when, presumably, most if not all of the major issues will already have been decided. That puts the voters who've been stripped from the rolls in the position of tie-breakers as opposed to election participants on equal footing with the rest of the properly registered voters in Colorado.

The situation is better than a complete ban, but it's hardly the clear victory the Post implies. Of late, Coffman's office has seemed to spend more time trying to prevent voters from casting ballots than it has in making sure that registered voters can make their selections with confidence. While the eleventh-hour pact is in part a repudiation of that philosophy, it still puts more of a burden on the victims of voting-roll purges than it should. -- Michael Roberts

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