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Scott Gessler says voter registration initiative not a response to critics

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On the heels of an initiative designed to weed out immigrants who may be illegally registered to vote in the November election, Colorado Secretary of Scott Gessler has launched a campaign aimed at increasing voter registration in the state. The $850,000 effort unveiled yesterday is not, however, a direct response to his critics, Gessler says.

Here's one of the ads in his new campaign, announced in a news conference yesterday.

Colorado Voter Registration (Extended) from Colorado Secretary of State on Vimeo.

Gessler, a Republican who was in Tampa last week for the Republican National Convention, has come under fire recently for sending letters to many registered voters asking them to prove their citizenship. (Turns out thousands of them were.) His critics argue that the letters represent a clear voter-suppression effort that would primarily intimidate Democrats and unaffiliated voters rather than Republicans -- or at least a waste of his office's limited time and resources.

Just a week after the results of that initiative were released, Gessler's office unveiled the new voter registration campaign -- one he feels goes beyond any previous efforts in the state's history.

"This was not developed to intentionally respond to those criticisms," he told us at the press event. "This has been in the works for a while. It's not a response to anything that's happened recently. We've been planning and we've been committed to this for a while.

"On the other hand," he continues, "I think it does disprove some of these accusations that unfortunately, I think, have taken on real partisan tones, because it does show the commitment that we have."

In recent months, Gessler has faced numerous lawsuits from different watchdog groups along with frequent attacks from political organizations -- all of them arguing that he is overstepping his bounds and devoting too much attention to efforts outside of his job purview.

This latest ad campaign gives his office a chance to actively promote a specific voter initiative -- a change from playing defense against the frequent onslaught of negative press and from voter-rights groups.

The outreach campaign includes television, radio, print and online ads and features Coloradans from across the state. The spots, some of which are in Spanish, focus on the importance of registering and eligibility requirements and also direct folks to go online to www.govotecolorado.com to register.

Continue reading for more on this campaign and to watch other television spots from Gessler's office. The outreach effort kicks off today and concludes on October 9, the registration deadline. Gessler said he is funding the initiative with federal funds designated for "voter educational efforts."

"We've designed it so that there's equal coverage for everyone in the state," he says, adding that his office is sending mailings to roughly 961,000 people who are considered unlikely to register for voting.

"This is the largest voter registration effort in the history of Colorado," he said, "and to my knowledge, this is the largest registration effort in the history of any state anywhere in the country. With the amount that we're spending, the amount that we're focused on encouraging people to register to vote and update their information, to my knowledge it's unprecedented anywhere in the country."

He added, "We want people to participate in our political process."

When first asked whether this effort will alleviate concerns that his office has been making it more difficult for people to vote, Gessler said, "For sure, this effort here shows that our office has a very strong commitment to make sure people have opportunities to participate here in the state of Colorado."

A second reporter asked Gessler how much of this campaign is focused on weeding out non-citizen voters -- the focus of other efforts in August.

"This particular campaign, frankly, very little if any of it is. We tell people that in order to register to vote, you need to be eighteen years old by the time of the election. You need to be a resident of Colorado and a U.S. citizen. So we certainly advertise the basic requirements," he said. "Beyond that, it doesn't necessarily involve that initiative at all. This is independent."

And how do those two separate efforts work together?

Gessler responded, "My approach is...in Colorado, it should be easy to vote and tough to cheat."

Here's another television spot....

Colorado Voter Registration (:30) #1 from Colorado Secretary of State on Vimeo.

And here's a Spanish ad in the campaign:

Vaya Votar Colorado from Colorado Secretary of State on Vimeo.

More from our Politics archive: "Sniagrab camping should not be compared to homelessness, says Mayor Michael Hancock"

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

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