DENVER – House Republicans on Wednesday killed a bill on voter registration from one of their own members, Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose.
The bill was a reaction to Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler’s effort to prevent county clerks from mailing ballots to people unless they voted in the last major election.
After the vote, Democratic leaders were so angry they called for Gessler’s removal as the state’s top elections official.
The House Local Government Committee killed Coram’s bill on a party-line, 6-5 vote. It had passed the Senate 24-10.
Colorado labels voters as “inactive” if they skipped voting in a November election in an even-numbered year. Gessler has told county clerks not to send mail ballots to voters on the inactive list. Instead, the clerks send a series of postcards, to which voters can reply and reactivate their voting status.
Coram’s Senate Bill 109 would have moved all inactive voters to the active list, and it would have told elections officials to use the U.S. Postal Service’s change-of-address database to update their voter rolls.
Several rural county clerks, including La Plata County’s Tiffany Parker, pushed for the bill, saying it would make the work of updating voter rolls easier, cheaper and more accurate.
“I strongly believe it is in the best interest of Colorado voters and will save money,” Parker said in written testimony to the House panel.
The bill would save La Plata County $7,000 a year, Parker said.
But Gessler testified against it.
“Many clerks and recorders believe this is going to substantially increase costs,” Gessler said.
Also, the U.S. Postal Service database is unreliable, he said.
Although clerks from Denver and Pueblo agreed with La Plata County’s clerk, elections officials in other big Front Range counties opposed the bill.
“Apparently, we didn’t make a strong enough case for it. We’ll move on,” Coram said. “We didn’t have consensus from the clerks.”
Democrats, though, smelled a plot to disenfranchise their voters, because more registered Democrats than Republicans are listed as inactive.
Gessler has previously attracted controversy by alleging that thousands of non-citizens were on the voter rolls.
Wednesday’s testimony was the last straw for State Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio.
“If Scott Gessler is unwilling to fulfill his duties as a non-partisan election officer, the people of Colorado should consider all avenues necessary to remove him as Secretary of State,” Palacio said in a news release.
In 2011, Gessler tried to block clerks in Denver and Pueblo from sending mail ballots to inactive voters. But the clerks sued and won a preliminary injunction against Gessler. The full case is not scheduled to be heard until January 2013.
That means that clerks in Denver and Pueblo can ignore Gessler’s orders and send ballots to inactive voters this fall. Both cities are Democratic strongholds.
“It weights those counties with a higher percentage of votes. That’s the downside,” Coram said.
If Pueblo sends out ballots to inactive voters and other clerks do not, it could make a difference in a close race between U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, and his Democratic challenger, Sal Pace, a state representative from Pueblo.
But Gessler said he is trying to be prudent in his maintenance of the voter lists.
“We need to think through these things better, and we certainly shouldn’t do them on the eve of a United States presidential election,” Gessler said.