Scott Gessler: Officials probably didn't catch all fraudulent voters before election

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After generating months of headlines and backlash from voter rights' groups, Secretary of State Gessler's anti-fraud initiative resulted in 44 individuals being removed from the voter rolls in the state.

But Gessler, in an election day interview, told us he wishes he could've done more and that it's likely fraudulent voters cast ballots in Colorado, despite efforts to prevent it.

Gessler has been working since August to clean up the voter rolls and prevent fraud come election day, specifically focused on identifying and removing immigrants illegally registered to vote. With help from a federal program that maintains immigration records, Gessler found a total of 441 alleged non-citizens who were signed up to vote.

As of last Friday, just a few days before election day, Gessler's office had removed a total of 44 voters from that list of 441, after names were shared with county clerks and letters sent directly to those individuals asking that they prove their citizenship or withdraw their voter registration.

He and his staff had hoped that they would have had more time to try and remove fraudulent voters, but because they were only able to access federal data starting late in August, they couldn't launch formal challenges that would produce results prior to election day.

So, from Gessler's perspective, that means there is a pretty good chance some registered voters committed fraud when they cast their ballots in Colorado this week.

His critics argue that the records he is relying on are not always up-to-date and that it's possible a new citizen would be flagged under his checks. If citizens sent in proof of citizenship or if the county clerks did their own checks and determined they are citizens, then the voters remained on the rolls and could cast ballots -- and a majority of those targeted likely fell into this category, given that thousands of names were cross-checked with the federal information.

But Gessler's office doesn't believe this process has been thorough enough or that it would stop all illegal voters. While Gessler has said the data is not perfect, he and his staff believe most of those who categorized as immigrants in the federal government's database are still immigrants today. And that means illegal votes might be counted, since so many who were flagged remained on the rolls.

Of the 441, 82 have voted in past elections. Of the 44 removed, seven have voted.

"I'm under the assumption that there will be some people who vote who shouldn't," Gessler said. "The work we've done shows there's a vulnerability. The work we've done shows that we've not been able to do...a thorough review of Colorado's rolls. And the partial review that we have done shows that there is a problem out there. So I'm assuming some people will likely vote who are ineligible to vote and those will be illegal votes."

Continue to read more of our interview with Scott Gessler. He continued, "And we probably won't know about it and we probably won't be able to catch it, because we don't have the tools we need. But if you look at the data we have from before, I think it's likely."

Of his overall efforts to prevent fraud, Gessler said, "I think we've taken a good first step."

Rich Coolidge, his spokesman added, "It just shows the vulnerability in the system."

Coolidge noted that there was an individual who registered in Douglas County who checked the "no" box under citizenship but made it onto the rolls anyway; he was mailed a ballot last year and voted using it. "They didn't find it until this year. And so if we had done these checks last year, we might have been able to say, 'Don't send him a ballot.' So that's what these checks can really benefit."

That voter has since been removed.

"I think the other thing is hopefully people are beginning to realize it's not just voter clean up," Gessler said about his approach. "It's educating people on who can and can't vote and making sure we don't lead people astray into breaking the law, because that's really sort of what it's about."

By the way, Gessler predicted that Mitt Romney would win in Colorado based on records that showed more Republicans than Democrats had voted early. Obama wound up taking the state.

More from our Politics archive: "Latino voters helped Colorado stay blue -- more so than in any other battleground state"

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

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