Democrats fear Secretary of State’s error compounds voter registration mistakes

By Chris Bragg

Errors made by over 4,000 voters in filling out voter registration forms have been compounded by an error made by the secretary of state’s office in addressing those mistakes, leading Colorado Democratic officials to express worry about those voters’ status for the Nov. 4 election.

The secretary of state’s office recently provided county clerks with a form letter that clerks then passed on to 4,046 voters, telling voters the that errant information on their registration forms had to be corrected by Oct. 6.

In fact, such errors can be corrected all the way up to election day, as Gov. Bill Ritter pointed out in a personal letter to Coffman, which was released to the public last Thursday.

Ritter wrote that his office had been contacted by “scores of constituents” about the error by the secretary of state’s office, which could potentially disenfranchise voters who believe they’ve missed the deadline to correct their voter registration information.

“Your dissemination of inaccurate information may disenfranchise hundreds or thousands of Coloradans, an outcome that is unacceptable,” Ritter wrote.

Coffman’s office learned from county clerks they’d made the error Oct. 3. In response, the secretary of state’s office said it had updated its Web site with the correct information. The office also sent a new form letter on Oct. 9 to county clerks with the correct information, according to William Browning, who is helping to direct operation of the SCORE statewide voter registration system.

Ritter, however, urged further action in his letter to Coffman. Ritter recommended that the secretary of state’s office direct county clerks to call each of the over 4,000 voters about the error. Ritter also said those voters should be included in poll books so they could remedy the error at polls on election day.

“In short, please ensure that these individuals are notified that they will be afforded every opportunity to remedy any deficiencies in their applications with minimal burden through election day,” Ritter wrote.

The Colorado Democratic Party also encouraged Coffman to aggressively act to fix the mistake.

“The secretary should enroll these registrants and treat them equally. The secretary of state’s job is to facilitate voting for as many legitimate Colorado voters as possible, and not to stand in the way as people vote for the change our country needs,” said Colorado Democratic Party Chair Pat Waak.

Did change in policy result in invalid forms?

Some are also placing blame on the secretary of state’s office for the existence of the more than 4,000 erroneous forms in the first place.

The Colorado Democratic Party said confusing voter registration forms designed by the secretary of state’s office resulted in many voters filling them out incorrectly.

“The main source of the confusion is the Colorado secretary of state’s office which designed an ambiguously worded registration form that led thousands of voters to not provide necessary information,” the party stated in a press release.

The most common error involved a new rule implemented by the Department of State in December 2007, stating voters in Colorado must in most cases provide their Colorado driver’s license number when they fill out a voter registration form. The only exception is if a voter does not have a Colorado driver’s license or identification card.

In such a case, they are then allowed to provide the last four digits of their social security number as a substitute. The Colorado Democratic Party maintains, however, voter registration forms were unclear on that point. In previous elections, voters could provide either their social security number or their driver’s license number.

Up until one month ago, many county clerks were reportedly looking the other way in most cases when it came to that mistake. But the secretary of state’s office then reportedly directed county clerks to begin stringently enforcing the new rule, according to a source prominently involved in voter registration drives who would only speak on the condition of anonymity.

The enforcement of the rule was said to effect only voters who had registered over the last month and not those who had registered before that.

Department of State spokesman Rich Coolidge said he was unaware of any change in policy on enforcing the rule over the last month.

The policy was said to have affected some 6,800 voters, including the 4,064 who then received the erroneous letter from the secretary of state’s office. On top of those roughly 6,800 voters, more could be identified in the coming weeks as county clerks cull through voter registration forms.

Some voter registration companies were also reportedly shaky on the new rule concerning driver’s licenses. However, Ben Hanna, the state director for Colorado ACORN, a voter registration company, said his company was aware of the rule because it worked closely with county clerks. Hanna said ACORN had taken special care to enforce the rule after a call from Denver Elections a couple weeks ago, expressing renewed concern about the rule.

These concerns highlight a statewide and national battle over the maintenance of voter rolls before the Nov. 4 election. Colorado Democrats recently expressed concern about inaccurate information provided by the El Paso County Clerk’s to Colorado College students, stating that out of state students might not be able to register to vote here. Colorado Republicans, meanwhile, have expressed concern about private signature gathering groups like ACORN, which Republicans say have a liberal bias and may be committing voter fraud.