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GOP fights Colorado elections legislation until past midnight

DENVER – Furious about Democratic-proposed election changes, Colorado Senate Republicans pushed debate past midnight Wednesday arguing against same-day registration and sending ballots by mail to all registered voters.

The bill already has cleared the House with unanimous opposition from Republicans, and no GOP Senators rose in support of the bill before it got approval on a preliminary vote early Wednesday. Another vote, as soon as today, is needed to pass the Senate.

On Tuesday evening, Republicans blasted Democrats for considering such a massive proposal with a week left in the legislative session.

A Republican lawmaker asked that the entire 128-page bill be read to drive the point and argued many lawmakers and stakeholders had not had enough time to digest the legislation.

“We are rushing this through and cramming this through the Legislature in the last eight days of the legislative process. I believe that this is an abuse of process,” said Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch.

Democrats consolidated power in November when they took over the House and retained the Senate, and the waning days of this year’s session have been marked by long nights packed with substantial legislation most Republicans oppose.

Democrats already passed new firearm restrictions, including limits on ammunition magazines and universal background checks, without a single Republican vote. They have also passed civil unions, and are in the process of pushing for a handful of union-backed bills.

The elections bill is the latest contentious proposal. Democrats have presented the bill as a modernization of how elections are conducted, with the goal of increasing voter access.

“We know that voting is the hallmark of our democracy. We need to make it simpler, more accessible and more convenient to eligible voters in Colorado,” said Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, one of the sponsors of the bill.

Although all registered voters would get ballots, they would still have the option to vote in person. People would be able to vote at any of the voting centers that the bill would put in place, instead of the current system of going to a designated precinct polling place. Those would be eliminated.

The bill would also eliminate the category of “inactive” voters. That category currently applies to voters who skip an election and restricts their ability to get ballots by mail.

One major point of contention for Republicans is same-day registration.

“To us that means fraud,” said Sen. Bill Cadman, the Republican Senate leader.

Under Colorado law, people can register to vote without a photo ID or Social Security number, and a utility bill can be used as identification when they vote. Republicans worry the current system makes it easier for people to cheat with same-day registration.

However, clerks who support the bill note that it’s rare for people to register without a photo ID or Social Security number. For example, 487 people in Denver registered without such identification since 2008 out of a voter population of 354,519. That’s far less than 1 percent.

But even in those cases, there are a lot of verification processes that election officials go through to confirm a voter’s identity and cases of fraud have been rare, said Jefferson County Clerk Pam Anderson.

“We have very few instances of even alleging a fraudulent act on registration,” she said.

Eight states and the District of Columbia currently allow same-day voter registration, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Two other states, California and Connecticut, have passed same-day voter registration but have not implemented it, according to NCSL.

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