(Voter supression in Colorado takes a different form that in the old Confederate states. I think this post is useful in reminding us of the myriad ways GOP and conservative voter suppression efforts take. We will see these tactics repeated and new ones invented. Scott Gessler's use of public monies to participate in and support 'True the Vote' has been the subject of a formal investigation. He defended such expenditures as legitimate and proper)
Colorado’s Republican Secretary of State, Scott Gessler, elected in November 2010, is proving himself a closet Tea Partier, using the power of his office as overseer of elections (and using taxpayer money) to advance the Tea Party agenda. If he had been honest about that agenda I doubt he would have been elected. When running for office, he didn’t say, “Elect me and I’ll engage in voter suppression!” or “Vote for me and I’ll enact the Tea Party agenda!” Had he done that, he probably would have gone down to defeat.
Since he has no legislative mandate to suppress voting, and Governor Hickenlooper is a Democrat, his efforts are limited compared to those in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Texas. He has targeted the Denver Metro area in particular, which contains about half of Colorado’s population and is about 30% "minority", made up of twice as many Hispanics as African-Americans. The Denver Metro area, Boulder, and Pueblo are much more politically liberal than the small towns and rural areas, consierably more conservative, typically voting 2-1 for McCain over Obama in 2008.
46 of the 64 Colorado counties now hold elections almost entirely by mail. Ballots are mailed out to registered voters, who fill them in and mail them back. This is a signficant cost savings for the cash-strapped counties. About 70% of Colorado voters either vote early or by mail.
DON’T GET OUT THE VOTE:
Gessler ordered the Denver registrar not to mail out ballots to any voter who did not vote in the 2010 elections, an unprecedented action. Such voters were “inactive-fail to vote,” he said, and their eligibility to vote therefore in doubt. Becoming aware of their voting rights being arbitrarily suspended with no notice, and initiating action to re-register in time, Gessler asserted, is the individual voter’s responsibility. That’s their problem, he said.
“I never got a letter. But I found out I had been removed from active voter status. I have lived in CO all my life, I was born here. I have never missed an election. However, about a decade ago I changed my registration from Republican to Democrat. I have voted in every election since too. They are quietly moving people off the lists.” [Comment on Daily Kos article 8/29/2012]
A Denver judge rejected Gessler's right to hand down such orders and allowed Denver County to mail out the ballots. Since then, nine other counties decided to go ahead and mail out ballot to so-called “inactive voters.” Court actions to force this were brought by Common Cause, Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, and the Urban League. Gessler’s actions brought stinging rebukes in editorials appearing in the Denver Post, The Pueblo Chieftain, the Colorado Independent, The Boulder Daily Camera, and The Westword.
Stymied on this front, Gessler launched an investigation of voter rolls and sent out letters to nearly 4,000 Colorado residents questioning their citizenship and demanding they produce proof of citizenship and their eligibility to vote. “So far, Gessler’s search hasn’t turned up any non-citizens who voted” [according to a HuffPo article by Ivan Moreno dated 8/31/12].
Undeterred, Gessler demanded and got the Department of Homeland Security to open their citizenship records for his perusal. Like Senator Joe McCarthy, his numbers of suspected fraudulent voters keeps shifting—from 5,000 to 4,000 to 1,400 then revised down to 177. Reportedly 16 of the 4,000 voluntarily withdrew from Colorado voting rolls, (likely because they were no longer Colorado residents, having moved out of state). Most recently, Gessler claims there are still 177 names out of the 4,000 still pending verification of citizenship, and therefore “trending as non-citizens.” Mark Grueskin, an election attorney for Democrats, retorted, “Either you are or you aren’t a citizen. You can’t ‘trend’ that way…the Secretary still can’t say how many, if any, non-citizens actually voted in Colorado elections. He has a choice: come up with facts he can defend in court, or end this suspicion-laden inquiry.”
The Daily Kos revealed that Gessler’s efforts are “ALEC-inspired and Koch brothers-funded,” not surprisingly.
GESSLER AND THE TEA PARTY’S “TRUE THE VOTE” ORGANIZATION:
Catherine Englebrecht is the founder of both the Texas Tea Party front group King Street Patriots and its spin-off org, True the Vote. Scott Gessler is up to his ears in collusion with this group and their right-wing affiliates. Far from being a grassroots organization of “concerned citizens”, those organizations were created and funded nationwide, with top-down coordinated funding and direction by ALEC and the Koch Brothers. Neither the Colorado Secretary of State (overseer of elections in the state) nor the Colorado Attorney General (the highest-ranking law enforcement officer in the state) hesitate to endorse what has been called a "voting vigilante group."
True the Vote’s focus is on policing the act of voting itself. Bill Ouren, the group’s national elections coordinator says their job is to act as unofficial poll watchers and to make voters feel like they are “driving and seeing the police following you” at every polling place. The overwhelmingly (if not in fact exclusively) white organization target polling places with significant numbers of black and Hispanic voters. A local Houston news station noted “As the numbers of poll watchers have increased, so have the number of complaints.” A video released by True the Vote at the time contained doctored photos of black people falsely pictured as advocating for voter fraud.” [HuffPo 8/27/12, Brendan Mock].
That was the point, after all: “Poll watchers show up for the first time and [they] are a different color from them and they just don’t like that,” smirked True the Vote’s lawyer Kelly Shackleford, of the rightwing Liberty Institute. True the Vote hopes to recruit one million volunteers nationwide. The recruits are given copies of voter registration lists and encouraged to report possible “irregularities," "suspicious names" and anything else they feel is “suspicious” to election officials and demnad a vigorous, immediate investigation. (Can’t you just see it? “Hey, here are two people named Maria Lopez registered to vote in Denver. And another Maria Lopez in the San Luis Valley! She must have voted three times! And two John Smiths, no, three! And who’s this LaT’ysha? That’s not an American name! This must be fraud! We need to turn it in. We demand it be investigated!”).
True the Vote is not a small, isolated group. At a Heritage Foundation panel last July, Englebrecht was flanked by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Scott Gessler. Kobach created a multi-state program for purging voters with dubious methods. Fifteen states have agreed to share voter registration to root out “non-citizen” voters. That same week Gessler reportedly “tried to force elected officials to accept changes in poll monitoring and canvassing rules.” Then Gessler became the featured speaker at True the Vote’s Colorado Summit this August. Colorado's Chief Deputy Attorney General, Cynthia Coffman, also wholeheartedly endoresed the True the Vote agenda. (Her husband, Congressman Mike Coffman has voiced doubt about Obama's birthplace and said "He's not a real American." Her boss, AG John Suthers, who appointed her, spearheaded the attempt by state AG's to refuse to acknowledge the ACA --"Obamacare"-- as constiutional and therefore refuse to implement it within their states.) At the RNC in Tampa Kobach’s strict voter ID law was enshrined as part of the Republican Party’s official platform.
True the Vote has hosted events that drew county clerks, state legislators, members of Congress, as well as Tea Party and “patriot” groups. Recruits are encouraged to “build relationships with election administrators” because they “control access to the vote.” If they want to become official poll watchers, ‘we can facilitate those relationships.”
It is not clear if the fanatic and reckless True the Vote recruits will physically disrupt the 2012 voting process as Republican cadres did during the 2000 Florida recount, hurling open boxes of ballots across the room, scattering them across the floor, stamping on them, screaming at the top of their lungs, and throwing chairs-- all in the name of a pious and patriotic concern for “honest elections.”
If the 2012 election cannot be bought, will it be stolen?