Scott Gessler office's latest glitch: 800 voters who recently registered may not be

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Critics of Secretary of State Scott Gessler argue that he spends more time intimidating and suppressing voters than he does registering them. Though Gessler has always denied those claims, he admitted yesterday that nearly 800 voters who legally registered may not have been put into the system due to a glitch -- and now they have to re-register. Trouble is, Gessler's office has no way of figuring out who they are.

While this latest problem at the Secretary of State's office has nothing to do with his controversial campaign to weed out illegal voters, it's certainly bad timing for Gessler, who faces continued criticism that he is failing to make voter registration his top priority. This month, he even faced backlash for a large-scale initiative aimed solely at encouraging more people to register across the state, due to errors in his office's mailings.

And now he has to deal with hundreds of unknown voters who used the Secretary of State's new mobile website. Over a period of eleven days this month, the system appears to have failed to actually register those who used it. For that reason, 779 voters apparently have no way of knowing they aren't actually registered, Gessler's office doesn't currently have any way to identify them or let them know they should register again.

Which is why Gessler decided to hold a press call with reporters yesterday afternoon, so news outlets could spread the word and reach voters who need to check their statuses.

"Frankly, we're asking for some help here," he said, explaining that new voters may not be registered if they went to GoVoteColorado.com on a mobile device or tablet between September 14 and 24.

The problem, he said, was with the software that Gessler's office unveiled at the end of last month, when he announced that Coloradans could register to vote using a new mobile-optimized site. At first, the error resulted in his office getting two registrations or transactions if a voter hit submit twice, essentially creating extra work for his team. Staffers corrected that problem on September 13, but inadvertently created a new issue.

After that date, registrations completed on the mobile device may not have actually been entered into the database, he said.

His office discovered the gaffe when one employee registered to vote using the mobile-optimized site and it didn't appear in the voter registration system. The Secretary of State's information technology staff quickly discovered faulty programming and corrected the application on the 24th. So the mobile site is fine to use now, but during that eleven-day period, it seems to have failed hundreds of others.

"We were able to identify the traffic...779 people to be exact...but we don't know who they are," Gessler said.

Continue reading for more on this glitch in Gessler's office. Gessler said individuals who may have been affected should go to GoVoteColorado.com and check their registration status -- and re-register if need be.

"There's always hope we may be able to find out" the identities of those who registered, Gessler said. But he added that his office is "operating under the assumption that we're not going to be able to figure out who those 779 people are."

The timing is not great given that the October 9 registration deadline is rapidly approaching and the stakes are especially high, since Colorado is expected to be one of the closest races in the country with a very small margin of victory for the next president.

"Our office did not engage in enough user testing...before we rolled out a software fix," Gessler said. "This happens in the information technology world."

He added, "We need to hold ourselves to a higher standard."

Since 2010, voters have been able to use the Secretary of State website on mobile devices, but it wasn't until late August of this year that his office rolled out a mobile-optimized site, which resulted in the glitches.

Gessler said Colorado is basically the only state that has this specific kind of web-optimized opportunity for registration.

Gessler also explained that there is ultimately a "safety valve for emergency registrations," such that if individuals registered during that time period with a mobile device and show up on Election Day to find out they aren't registered, they may still be able to vote. They can go to the clerk and recorder and swear under oath that they fit that criteria, which would allow them to fill out an emergency registration. This kind of last-minute registration has been used when individuals registered during a voter registration drive, but their information wasn't properly submitted. He said he will be providing guidance to clerks on how to handle this.

This news comes on the heels of negative press around Gessler's effort to clean up voter rolls and eliminate voter fraud. These efforts have led to a very small percentage of illegal voters actually being removed -- including a total of four in Denver County.

In this case, Gessler emphasized that he wants to do all he can to get the word out and address the problem, so no one is impacted by the glitch.

"We are trying to proactively reach out and tell people about this issue, so we can get ahead of it," he said. "Frankly, that's why we need your help."

More from our Politics archive: "Michael Hancock: I care about family of Wayne McDonald, ex-employee suing Denver"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.

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