Secretary of State Scott Gessler has gotten a lot of attention for his effort to weed out illegal voters and frequent clashes with voter rights advocacy groups that complain he is devoting too much time to a wild goose chase.
Here, we take you behind the scenes at Gessler's office, where his staff have pages of documents that they say justify his efforts.
Through the county clerks, fourteen illegal voters have been removed from Colorado voting rolls, and Gessler's office recently ran checks on thousands more potential non-citizen voters; results on the latter are expected this week. The overall effort, Gessler says, is aimed at preventing voter fraud by removing individuals from the ballots who are not legally registered. And they have proof, his staff says, that voter fraud really exists in the state.
Gessler, a Republican, says he is dedicated to making it easy for people to vote and tough for them to cheat. In the latter effort, he says his office has worked to identify loopholes in the system and weed out non-citizen voters who, for a variety of reasons, may have taken advantage of the loopholes and could be illegally voting in November.
His critics, however, argue that while they don't oppose efforts to eliminate voter fraud, Gessler's priorities are all wrong. They believe his office is dedicating a lot of energy to removing a few voters, even when he is facing what they see as more serious problems with basic voter registration. Indeed, the harshest doubters fear that some of these efforts could actually suppress or intimidate new citizens from voting in the election, where the stakes are especially high in a key swing state like Colorado.
Gessler maintains that such claims are liberal, partisan attacks on his office, which has dedicated a lot of resources to a campaign encouraging voters across the state to register.
In an interview with us last week, he said, "These guys are as willfully ignorant as it gets. I have spent on this ad here $850,000. No one in the history of Colorado has ever done anything even close to that. They say I'm making it harder for people to register to vote. What I'm doing is encouraging people to register to vote.... What our office has done has been very successful."
To get a better look at why, at least according to Gessler's office, the effort to eliminate fraud is a worthy cause, his spokesman, Rich Coolidge, gave us a tour of the Statewide Voter Registration System, called SCORE, and showed us documents intended to prove the existence of illegal voters.
SCORE has voter information and records for individuals across the state -- including voter history. And in some cases, Coolidge says, that voter history exists for individuals who have on other forms said they are non-citizens. This, he says, is evidence of voter fraud.
It's difficult to go through all the records and tally up a total number of illegally registered voters who have actually voted, Coolidge says. But in the SCORE system, he shows us that through the archives, he can look up all cancelled voters who checked "non-citizen" as their reason for canceling. The total comes to 489 individuals, mostly from 2008 onward, who were registered but have since canceled their registration because they aren't citizens.
Additionally, there are nearly 20,000 records of voters who have withdrawn. Voters in that group, Coolidge says, could have withdrawn for any reason. They might have moved to a different state, or perhaps an individual withdrew a parent who can no longer vote. Or they could be a non-citizen.
"When people say how many non-citizens were on the rolls...there's a minimum of 489...but we have this pot of 20,000 [that could include non-citizen withdrawals]," he explains.
Continue for documents from Gessler's office and response from the ACLU. Within the records, there are some who have voted illegally, Coolidge says -- and he maintains that he's got (redacted) documents to prove it. An April 2011 document on view below in its entirety is an example that shows a voter who checked "no" under citizen, also writing "not yet" next to it.
Coolidge shows us other voter-history documents -- full redacted versions are also on view below -- from this same individual, who voted in 2003, 2004 and 2006 in El Paso County.
Coolidge also points to letters from individuals asking to be removed, explaining that they didn't realize they weren't allowed to vote as immigrants. Here are excerpts from those two, with the full letters below.
"There's clearly a misunderstanding," Coolidge says, explaining that records show that some immigrants just don't realize that they are not allowed to vote. The problem, he says, is that voters who checked "no" under citizenship have been able to vote. Likewise, some immigrants may check "yes" with their registration forms and county clerks just take their word for it -- and in some cases there's no good way to verify them.
Gessler's office says that of 141 registered voters who aren't citizens according to a federal database, 35 of them have voted in past elections -- though some critics dispute how accurate and up-to-date that data might be. Still, of the fourteen voters who were recently removed as a result of that federal check, none actually have vote history, meaning there is no overlap with the 35 voters.
But the proof of fraud overall is there, says Coolidge, adding that, despite the fact that many voters ultimately have not been removed -- given that there was very little time since they got access to the federal database and Election Day -- the Secretary of State still believes there are many illegally registered voters.
"We think all of them are [illegally registered]," Coolidge says of the 141 flagged. "The federal government says they are not citizens."
And more could turn up this week with a second round of checks -- and Gessler's office will send those names to county clerks with instructions on how to challenge them.
Despite these documents, Gessler's critics aren't convinced.
"My view is, of course, there are some [examples of voter fraud] out there and that's bad," says Denise Maes, public policy director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado. "Let's deal with it and not talk about rampant fraud as if it's a bigger issue than it is.... That's what [Gessler] puts out in the news."
She says encouraging people to vote has to be the priority -- and it just doesn't seem like that's the case with Gessler.
"To the extent that [instances of voter fraud] are true and authentic, that's a problem and we need to deal with it," she says. "What we're saying is it's a disproportionate amount of time and effort to spend on...what is virtually a non-problem."
Gessler himself says that the constant criticism can be frustrating. "The people who make those criticisms are politicizing the issue and they want to sort of try and whip up their base by creating a false impression of what's going on. Ultimately, they've got the freedom of speech to be able to do that. But they're just not facing reality -- and the reality is what we're doing works really well."
Continue for the full documents provided to us by Gessler's office. El Paso form from 2011 with voter checking "non-citizen" box and writing "not yet" next to it.
Records showing that this person voted several times in years prior. El Paso Vote History
Letter from Douglas County resident who was illegally registered. Douglas County Letter, Gessler's Office
Continue for more documents. Letter from Jefferson County resident who was illegally registered. Jeffco Example
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One example of a voter updating his/her registration, checking the "non-citizen" box, meaning this person never should have been registered in the first place. Voter Registration Cancelation 1
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