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Scott Gessler's latest non-citizen check nets five Denverites, zero actual voters

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Last week, Secretary of State Scott Gessler announced the results from his second round of checks to remove illegal voters from the state's rolls. His office says 300 alleged non-citizens are registered to vote throughout the state in addition to the 141 flagged in September. Since these names were sent to Denver, the state's largest county, just five registrations have been canceled. None of them have voted, and their presence on the rolls appears to be as a result of a clerical error.

Gessler's controversial effort to remove non-citizens from the voter rolls and prevent fraud on election day has been earning headlines since August, when he first sent letters to thousands of registered voters asking them to prove they are citizens or otherwise remove themselves from voter rolls. His critics say that this amounts to voter intimidation; they feel he is wasting resources on what is essentially a non-issue. Some say Gessler, a Republican, is actively trying to block non-Republicans from voting in the tight Colorado race.

But Gessler says he has remained focused on registering a record number of voters in the state. He stresses that he's simply trying to prevent fraud and cheating and make the elections as fair and as clean as possible.

With that goal, he has identified individuals who have at some point shown a form of identification, like a green card, to the Division of Motor Vehicles. Gessler's office also cross-checked those names with a federal Department of Homeland Security database of immigration records. His first round of the federal checks flagged 141 alleged non-citizens, leading to the removal of fourteen total across the state , none of whom had voted. The second round found 300 more, bringing the total to 441.

This amounts to a serious problem, highlighting the fact that there are loopholes allowing hundreds of non-citizens to sign up to vote, Gessler's office says. Of the 441 who have received letters and whose names has been sent to county clerks with instructions and recommendations on how to challenge them, 82 have voted in past elections, his representatives maintain. If those people were undocumented immigrants, their votes would be fraudulent.

Gessler and his staff have repeatedly told us they are confident most of these voters are non-citizens, since the federal database has them listed as such. His critics, however, say the Department of Homeland Security information can be inaccurate or very out of date, as was the case with one voter we spoke to last week. He has been a legal citizen since 2001 but still received the latest warning letter from Gessler's office, because he shows up as an immigrant in the federal database.

One way to better understand what the actual impact of Gessler's actions has been and will be in the final week of the race is to look at the consequences in the state's largest county. As we reported in September, Gessler's first round of checks resulted in four voters being removed from Denver's rolls. The Denver county clerk's office says the reasons can be traced to what were essentially data entry errors, and the rest of the 42 flagged names check out. Gessler's office, however, says the county clerks have no dependable way to actually verify that these voters are citizens other than relying on the fact that they've checked the box and said they are.

In this second round, Amber McReynolds, director of elections for Denver, tells us that 46 new names were sent her way from Gessler's office. The Secretary of State's figures show 96 Denver voters in the two rounds total, with thirteen of them having voted in past elections.

McReynolds says her staffers investigated the names sent her way and found one had already been canceled -- so it probably shouldn't have been on the list in the first place. Additionally, five more needed to be removed. These five voters, who have no history of voting in the state, were canceled for the same reason as the first four -- essentially clerical errors within the county clerk's office, she says.

"They were data entries and they have now been canceled," she says.

Continue for more details on the canceled voters and response from Gessler's office. McReynolds explains that if someone filled out a form and checked "non-citizen," then her office would make sure they are not registered to vote. But in these five cases, it appears that there was some kind of glitch and the names ended up on the rolls. Those five entry errors were several years old, and none of the individuals in question has tried to vote.

The other forty names check out, she says.

"Based on forms we have on file, all have indicated that yes, they are citizens," she says, noting that some have voted multiple times, signing numerous affidavits affirming their citizenship in the process. "We believe they have met the requirements to be registered voters in Colorado."

Short of this kind of scrutiny by the county clerks -- or poll watchers or individual citizens actually challenging voters at the polls on election day -- there's not much more that can be done to remove voters this cycle. After the election, more formal challenge procedures might take place to delete voters from the rolls, some of which have been outlined in information from Gessler's office sent to county clerks.

A number of Gessler's critics argue that his efforts have become a wild goose chase, given that there are so few instances of fraud. The nine voters removed in Denver account for 0.0019 percent of the 482,903 total registered voters in the county as of October 19.

The timing of this process during the final weeks of the race has also raised some red flags for Gessler's critics, who say this could intimidate or confuse legal voters who may have recently become citizens. Gessler maintains that he would have liked to go through the process a lot sooner, but couldn't because he didn't have access to the Department of Homeland Security database until recently.

"It's busy during the election, but we want to make sure the list is clean," says McReynolds, adding, "We do everything we can to make sure that the process is secure, transparent and accessible.... When things like this...pop up in any election, we research it accordingly."

McReynolds says she is a bit concerned that the letters recently sent out in the second round of checks could be bothersome or confusing to legal voters. (See the full version of the letter).

"I think that...for folks who are legitimate citizens and have the right to vote like anybody else, it would be intimidating to them to receive a letter," she says. "If they are a citizen and they have the right to vote, I can see their frustration."

Gessler, in an interview with us last week, responded at length to criticisms of intimidation, saying he does not think the letters are in anyway intimidating. If people are legal citizens, he said, he wants them to vote and thinks they will.

He told us then: "I think that's speculation. We haven't seen it as a practical matter.... They are very non-threatening letters." He added, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

Gessler also said he's seen a range of responses from the county clerks. "Some have worked very hard to keep active voter rolls and some haven't done as much. It's really a varied response."

Post-election, Gessler hopes to implement a more uniform process across the state for dealing with these alleged illegal voters, given that in these final weeks, counties may be handling the process differently. "I would like to standardize it...so that someone who lives in Denver or Colorado Springs or Westminster...are all be treating equally."

For her part, McReynolds says she is very confident in Denver's system.

"Our goal is always reliable, fair, transparent...elections," she says. "And we want to make things accessible to voters.... [We want to] ensure a secure election that people can be confident in and that's what we have here."

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

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