Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler has launched a voter-registration effort that has the potential of fortifying democracy in the state by reaching out to Coloradans and encouraging them to cast their ballots in November. It is the right move for the state’s election official to make, regardless of the reasoning behind it.
Discerning that reasoning is beside the point, too, though it is surely tempting for Gessler’s Democratic critics. At the end of the day, a statewide effort to engage potential voters in the electoral process is a good thing for Colorado, for democracy and for civic engagement. Gessler deserves praise for the initiative.
The secretary of state’s office will mail voter-registration information to nearly 1 million Coloradans, encouraging them to register. There will also be a TV, radio and print advertisement campaign that educates nonvoters about how to register. These materials will be in English and Spanish, and, in crafting a bilingual campaign, Gessler’s office has cast a broad net in its efforts to capture as many potential voters as it can.
The effort also can serve to quell some of the criticism Gessler has faced for his focus on purging noncitizens from Colorado’s voter rolls. In doing so, he has raised questions about the extent to which illegal voting is a problem in Colorado, and by most accounts the answer has been that it is not widespread. That has not stopped Gessler from trying to root out the practice, and his registration effort is not a sign that he has dropped voter fraud as a priority. In fact, Gessler will be holding hearings to look into registered voters whose citizenship is in question.
Whether it is worth the energy, time and political capital required to conduct the hearings remains to be seen. Gessler’s previous work on this priority has yielded lackluster results: An investigation looking into fraud in the 2010 election found 85 voters who should not have cast a ballot, and a mailing to 3,903 registered voters whose citizenship is in question produced 16 responses asking to have their names stricken from the voter registry. These numbers suggest that the problem simply is not as large as Gessler suspects, or ineligible voters are very good at covering their tracks.
Either way, this new effort aimed at adding people to the voting rolls rather than removing them from it is a positive step for Gessler. Erring on the side of enfranchising as many Coloradans as possible by educating and encouraging – and making it easy for – them to register to vote is in everyone’s best interest, whatever partisan stripes they wear. One of the fundamental ways Americans demonstrate active citizenship is by participating in the democracy that shapes life in this country. Gessler sends a strong message by supporting that right and seeking more Coloradans to exercise it.