Gessler continues to stir things up

Secretary of State accuses opponents of playing race card
The Colorado Statesman

Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler told a national conservative audience in Denver last Thursday that those on the left only pretend to care about vote fraud but are only interested in stirring up anger against conservatives to win votes when they “demagogue” the issue. What’s more, he said, his political opponents are happy to play “the racism card, and they are more than willing to lie to do this.”

Speaking on a panel at the Conservative Political Action Committee Colorado conference, Gessler blasted the organizers of left-leaning voter registration drives for “illegally registering people to vote” by encouraging non-citizens to register and vote, despite the serious legal consequences.

Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference on the topic “What the Left Doesn’t Want You to Know About Voter Fraud” as part of a panel discussion on Oct. 4 in Denver.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“I think they are very happy to manipulate people into believing it is OK to ignore these laws,” he said.

Along with a group of conservative lawyers and the founder of the controversial True the Vote organization, Gessler took part in a panel discussion called “Stealing Elections: What the Left Doesn’t Want You to Know” during the all-day CPAC gathering at a hotel near Denver International Airport on the day after the first presidential debate. GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney made a surprise appearance on the same stage earlier in the day. Other speakers at the conference — all Republicans — included Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and U.S. Sens. John Thune, Orrin Hatch and Marco Rubio.

While Gessler acknowledged that “some people are very sincere when they deny vote fraud, or they’re misguided but sincere,” he charged that left-leaning organizations “manipulate people to get them angry against a make-believe enemy that doesn’t exist in an effort to win votes, to demonize, frankly, people who are conservative, that believe in limited government.”

When Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton introduced Gessler, he said the Republican was “currently under attack from the left for doing common-sense things related to election integrity,” he was right, at least, about the reaction to Gessler’s remarks from critics in Colorado.

“I think he has a tendency to chase shiny objects and not focus on the basics,” said Ellen Dumm, a consultant for what she termed voter-protection groups, after Gessler delivered his remarks at CPAC. “Both parties care about voter fraud. But to say something so blatantly partisan to so clearly a partisan audience, I just don’t think I understand how he thinks he can maintain the public’s trust.”

Steve Fenberg, executive director of New Era Colorado, an organization that aims to register and motivate young voters, called Gessler’s contentions “overly partisan attacks at overly partisan events. It makes his whole agenda pretty transparent.”

Fenberg added, “It lowers his credibility overall. He’s making these accusations, but you can’t get more partisan than Scott Gessler. He’s making these claims at CPAC, he’s not making these claims at nonpartisan civic engagement conferences.”

Fenberg’s organization on Tuesday announced that it had registered roughly 20,500 voters — and estimated it had steered another 10,000 to register online — before the midnight deadline for the November election. That’s roughly three times the number of voters it helped add to the rolls in the 2008 election, he said.

Gessler said that one way “where they really manipulate this” is that when it comes to fraudulently registering voters, left-leaning organizations “do not suffer the consequences. They’ll go to people who are noncitizens. They don’t care that they are noncitizens. They’ll register them to vote. And if that noncitizen registers and then votes, they suffer serious consequences, criminal prosecution, loss of the ability to ever become a citizen, but the voter registration drive never suffers any of those consequences.”

Calling the contention “an absurd claim,” Fenberg said he’s seen no evidence to back up Gessler’s charges. “There are no organizations out there that I’m aware of that are purposefully misleading voters,” he said.

Dumm had a similar reaction. “This whole straw man of how there are thousands of people signing up that aren’t eligible to vote is absolutely ridiculous. It’s a witch-hunt on his part.”

Gessler’s office revealed last week that a one-time employee of Strategic Allied Consulting, a firm hired and since fired by national Republicans and the Colorado Republican Party to register voters — the Colorado GOP paid the firm $446,643 in July and August, according to Federal Election Commission filings — was under investigation by the local district attorney’s office.

The news emerged following a request by Colorado Ethics Watch for records held by the secretary of state’s office concerning the firm, which is facing accusations it submitted fraudulent voter registration forms in 10 Florida counties. Gessler’s office denied the request for records, citing the ongoing investigation in the 18th Judicial District, which encompasses Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties.

“Let’s face it, his party is facing some pretty serious charges around voter registration,” Dumm said. “I’m sure this is a deflection.”

Gessler also called Colorado’s widespread use of mail-in ballots — roughly 70 percent of the state’s voters cast ballots by mail — “the other sleeper issue that I worry about.” Noting that voters enjoy the chance to take their time studying a ballot that can be lengthy and complicated, he added, “The very things that make that so useful and convenient for honest people is also a potential pathway to fraud.”

Earlier this summer, Gessler — who at one point claimed that Colorado’s voter rolls included more than 11,000 people who weren’t U.S. citizens — faced criticism for sending a letter to nearly 4,000 registered voters telling them they were suspected noncitizens and asking them to prove that they were eligible to vote before obtaining a list from the Department of Homeland Security used to cross-check citizenship records. Subsequent reports — notably by Denver-based Associated Press reporter Ivan Moreno, who was recognized by the news organization for his diligence — narrowed the number of potential noncitzens on Gessler’s initial list to 141, only 35 of whom had voted.

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com