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Scott Gessler's mom calls for voter-ID law at election-integrity hearing

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Secretary of State Scott Gessler was not at his "election integrity" hearing in Denver yesterday -- but his mother was.

Barbara Gessler, mom of Colorado's chief election officer, sat in the front row and waited for her turn to offer public comment which, included a plea for voter ID laws and concerns about people trying to vote twice.

"I'm Barbara Gessler, Scott's mother," she said when it was her opportunity to offer testimony inside a conference room at the Secretary of State's Denver office.

The team working for Barbara's son has been going around the state over the last two weeks as part of what he has called an "election integrity listening tour" -- an opportunity for members of the public to offer comment about the election.

Gessler himself attended meetings last week in Arapahoe, Boulder, Pueblo and El Paso counties. But he could not make it to yesterday's two-and-a-half-hour Denver hearing yesterday afternoon.

The Gessler family, however, was represented.

By the time Barbara Gessler spoke, all of the speakers who had signed up on a list had already offered comment and the floor was open to anyone else who wished to weigh in.

At around 2:30 p.m, she made a short speech, explaining that as an election judge -- and the Secretary of State's mother -- she has a good sense about some election problems, and ideas about possible solutions.

"I was at a polling place where I was an election judge," she began. "And we had a lot of people come in who said, 'Oh, I received a mail-in-ballot, but I didn't get a chance to send it in.'"

She explained that she would then direct those voters to a different line, where they could fill out provisional ballots -- a voting option for those whose eligibility is not immediately established on election day.

Voters are directed to provisional ballots for a variety of reasons -- if records show they already voted, if they are not in the correct precinct, if they don't have the required identification, etc. Those ballots are counted after the regular and mail-in ballots are tallied, and after they are verified by election officials. The ballots, as well as the accompanying lines at polling station, sparked some confusion among voters and election workers, as well as concern for poll watchers and activists fearful of fraud.

In her testimony, Barbara Gessler explained that when she sent voters to the provisional line, "they weren't happy about it" -- but she told them, "This is the way that we check to make sure that you've not voted twice, because if you vote twice, you are breaking the law."

She continued, "They immediately went out to their cars, got their mail-in-ballots, filled them out and put them in the...box."

This statement prompted several audible gasps from the audience.

"All we have to do is have a big sign saying it's against the law to vote twice. Fill out a provisional ballot if you do not have your mail-in-ballot... simple as that," she said.

Officials often note that there are some safeguards in place in the system that prevent two ballots from the same voter being counted.

Continue for more of Barbara Gessler's testimony, including her call for voter ID laws. "The problem can really be solved with legislation.... Scott is for voter ID," Gessler continued. "It's the only way that we can verify that the people that are getting ballots are the right people."

Voter ID laws have been a source of controversy around the country. Supporters argue that they would prevent voter fraud, while opponents say that strict requirements can disenfranchise legitimate voters. Photo ID laws have been proposed in Colorado -- and Gessler, as his mother pointed out, has supported them. But the laws here aren't nearly as strict as ones that have drawn backlash in other states.

It remains to be seen whether this kind of bill will be proposed in the upcoming legislative cycle.

"If you look at their driver's licenses and their Colorado IDs, there's lots of ways we can look," Barbara Gessler said.

There was a range of testimony throughout the hearing and several speakers, like Barbara Gessler, expressed concerns about the potential for fraud. A speaker before her said, "We can sure as heck get our voter ID pinned down. That would solve all of our problems."

Barbara Gessler, in promoting voter ID laws, told a personal story.

"I was at O'Hare airport [in Chicago] two years ago and lost my driver's license," she said. "In order to get through security, I had to have ID, photo ID. I was frantic -- the only thing I had was my Costco card. And I showed it to the security and they accepted it, because my picture was on it with my name. So don't tell me that we can't get photo ID."

She continued, "I see a lot of people at Sam's Club that are not legal citizens that have...Sam's Club cards, so I know it's possible."

Voter ID laws weren't the only topic that stirred Gessler's mom. Barbara stayed for most of the hearing, taking notes on a yellow legal pad, interjecting her opinion at one point and chatting with several members of the audience.

"As far as the election day, we had problems with people who were insisting on voting even though they didn't register, so I insisted that they go to provisional ballots," she said. "Out of 900 voters, we had 99 provisional ballots. It was our only way of checking."

She added, "People don't want to stand in line. They'll fill out their ballots and put them in the mailbox."

Several in the audience applauded as Gessler returned to her seat.

More from our Politics archive: "Republican candidates in Boulder and Pueblo pursue recounts, despite wide margins of loss."

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

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