Scott Gessler pushes new bill that would allow him to remove non-citizen voters from the rolls

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How would the proposal work?

If the law passed, Gessler's office could remove suspected non-citizens, who would then have the opportunity for a hearing on the matter to present their side -- and potentially proof of citizenship if they have been incorrectly flagged.

The bill says, in part:

The secretary of state has unambiguous existing authority to detect and electronically cancel the registrations of electors who are deceased or have been convicted of a felony, but there is no explicit analogous authority pertaining to removal of non-citizens from the voter registration record; and.... Therefore, consistent with the foregoing, the general assembly finds it necessary to:

(I) Direct the secretary of state to ensure that the names of persons who are not citizens of the United States and thus ineligible to vote do not appear in the voter registration record; and

(II) Clearly affirm the ability of the secretary of state to cancel ineligible voters from the voter registration record.

Coolidge emphasizes that the legislation would give the Secretary of State this authority but also would require an administrative hearing before his office can cancel the voter.

"It provides due process...a public hearing to say the federal government has identified you as a non-citizen," he says.

His office has identified non-citizens on the rolls by cross-checking names with a federal database called the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements Program, or SAVE, which is part of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Gessler has unsuccessfully pursued similar anti-fraud legislation in the past, and the groups that have been critical of this work are likely going to be loud opponents this time around.

The problem, they say, is that the SAVE information can be inaccurate and out-of-date and is not designed to function as a verification tool for voter rolls. That means if someone is incorrectly flagged -- and we've interviewed two different legal citizens who were falsely thought to be immigrants -- they could be disenfranchised.

Under past procedures, in which Gessler only sent letters, the concern was that individuals could be intimidated or confused by the process. With this new proposal, the potential for suppression is even greater, critics believe, because his office would have direct authority to remove them, and if legal citizens are targeted and don't show up to the administrative hearing, they would lose the right to vote.

"Whenever you question a voter's eligibility, it can create an intimidating environment, and that's always a concern," says Elena Nunez, executive director of Colorado Common Cause, a group that has closely scrutinized Gessler since he took office. "But this raises...the concern.... If the person doesn't participate [in the hearing]...they can be removed and won't be eligible to vote."

She says, "We continue to have concerns about using [this]...database.... We think it's an appropriate debate for the legislature to have, and we'll encourage [lawmakers] reject the bill. The Secretary of State should be focused on making sure all eligible citizens can participate, not continuing this project."

Coolidge counters that if the federal government has someone listed as a non-citizen, and for some reason that's inaccurate, those individuals should know about it. Additionally, he argues, it would be easy for legal citizens to prove that they are legitimate voters and avoid being removed if there were errors in data.

"We have a safeguard in place," he says, referencing the administrative hearing. "If they have inaccurate immigration [records], it's good for the person on the ground to know the federal government doesn't recognize them as a citizen."

He adds, "If they simply say, here's proof of citizenship, we are all set."

Continue for more details on the proposal and the full bill.

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Sam Levin
Contact: Sam Levin