Voter access

The Colorado Legislature soon will consider a bill that would expand options for voters by expanding mail balloting, increase voter-registration accessibility and broaden county clerks’ ability to track voters as they move. These are important provisions that, if enacted, will do much to increase elections’ efficiency and bring down their cost to taxpayers – with the added bonus of improving voter access. These are all benefits to Coloradans and democracy that should not prompt a political fight. Would that it did not.

Instead, Republicans and Democrats at the State Capitol are squaring off on what ought to be a nonpartisan issue, with the former claiming that allowing voters to register up to 22 days before an election as well as same-day registration will make the state vulnerable to election fraud and disproportionately benefit Democrats. The evidence of such claims has yet to appear, but that has not stopped lines from being drawn.

While the specifics of the measure are emerging, and their final form will not take shape until a protracted discussion at the Legislature is complete, the premise of improving the way the state conducts elections is a worthy one that lawmakers are right to undertake. Elections conducted by mail typically improve voter turnout while saving significant dollars in the process. La Plata County Clerk Tiffany Parker said mail elections have a price tag of about half that of one conducted at polling places. The measure under consideration would offer voters the option of casting ballots at polling centers, but would make mail ballots available to all voters, as well. This concept increases access and holds much promise for improving turnout. Democracy benefits from such action.

Conversation about whether a party will gain an unfair advantage with improved voter access really ought to be secondary to making elections as efficient, inexpensive and inclusive as possible. With improved technology that allows clerks to cross-reference with other counties and even other states to see where voters have moved to or from, there are safeguards in place to ensure lists are accurate and registration is legitimate. The time is ripe for action on improving voter access.

Election strategy has, in recent cycles, had a registration component. Depending on the party, efforts to increase registration and turnout or suppress it have been important factors in races from the local to national level. Establishing a baseline of inclusion, access and broad-based registration efforts can neutralize a partisan element where it should not exist. Colorado can be at the leading edge of that effort.

The reform effort underway at the Legislature will likely suffer if Republicans and Democrats cannot avoid a full-fledged ideological battle. Coloradans and democracy both deserve an election system that encourages its voters to participate and provides the safeguards to ensure that they do so legitimately. Infusing such an effort with partisan mudslinging does little to improve the civic discourse. As the debate about voter access unfolds at the Legislature, Coloradans should keep in mind the party-neutral benefits of voter turnout and ask that their legislators do the same.

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