Colorado’s mail elec­tion ‘har­vests’ fear of vote abuse

Vol­un­teers of­fer to col­lect bal­lots

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

DEN­VER | It’s har­vest time in Colorado, and not just for pump­kins. Con­cerns are run­ning high over door-to-door cam­paign work­ers ask­ing vot­ers for their mail-in bal­lots in what is known as “bal­lot har­vest­ing.”

Now that all-mail vot­ing is the law of the land in Colorado, the chal­lenge for cam­paigns is to per­suade vot­ers to drop off or mail in their bal­lots — or hand them to the foot sol­diers who turn up on their doorsteps of­fer­ing to do it for them.

While it’s le­gal to give your bal­lot to some­one else — one per­son may turn in up to 10 bal­lots — elec­tion watch­ers worry that the prac­tice is ripe for abuse.

“Th­ese are to­tally unau­tho­rized peo­ple com­ing to the door and gath­er­ing bal­lots and do­ing what­ever they want to them,” said Mar­i­lyn Marks, pres­i­dent of the Aspen-based Cit­i­zen Cen­ter, which fo­cuses on elec­tion in­tegrity.

“If I have col­lected your bal­lot, I could do the hon­est thing and put it in the mail for you, or take it to the clerk’s of­fice and drop it off — or I could look inside, open it gen­tly, see how you voted, and if I didn’t like it, I could make some changes,” said Ms. Marks. “Or the other thing I could do, if I don’t like the way you’re vot­ing, I could throw your bal­lot in the trash can.”

In a Den­ver Post op-ed, Ms. Marks urged vot­ers not to turn over their bal­lots to strangers. Sec­re­tary of State Scott Gessler has asked vot­ers to give their bal­lots only to peo­ple they know, and to ver­ify af­ter­ward that their bal­lot was re­ceived on GoVoteColorado. com.

Still, Mr. Gessler, a Repub­li­can, has made it clear that he’s not thrilled with the new vot­ing law, the Voter Ac­cess and Mod­ern­ized Elec­tions Act, which passed the Demo­crat-con­trolled leg­is­la­ture in 2013 with no Repub­li­can votes.

The mea­sure makes Colorado the third state after Ore­gon and Wash­ing­ton with all-mail elec­tions, and the first with both all­mail vot­ing and same-day voter reg­is­tra­tion. The law also puts about 350,000 for­merly in­ac­tive vot­ers back into the sys­tem in an ef­fort to in­crease par­tic­i­pa­tion. About 2.9 mil­lion Coloradans were mailed bal­lots last week, said Sec­re­tary of State’s Of­fice spokesman Rich Coolidge.

“I guess my con­cern is you’ve got a loss of choice and you do have po­ten­tial for vote fraud, and I don’t see any ben­e­fits,” Mr. Gessler said. “Colorado for the [2012] pres­i­den­tial elec­tion had the third-best turnout in the coun­try. Wash­ing­ton and Ore­gon were 10th and 11th. We had bet­ter turnout than the all-mail bal­lot states. So why did we have to go to all-mail?”

Democrats ar­gued that the law was needed to elim­i­nate bar­ri­ers to vot­ing and en­cour­age turnout, but Repub­li­cans quickly dubbed the mea­sure the “voter-fraud bill.” This year’s vote is the first time the sys­tem has been used in a ma­jor elec­tion fea­tur­ing statewide and leg­isla­tive can­di­dates for of­fice.

Colorado has al­ready grap­pled with bal­lot-har­vest­ing con­cerns. In the June 24 vote on an an­tifrack­ing bal­lot mea­sure in Love­land, sev­eral res­i­dents said can­vassers de­scrib­ing them­selves as city work­ers were go­ing door to door col­lect­ing bal­lots.

Other states have wres­tled with un­scrupu­lous bal­lot har­vesters. In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry signed a law in June 2013 that makes it a crime to pay can­vassers by the num­ber of mail-in bal­lots they col­lect.

Colorado state Sen. Ted Har­vey said he was con­cerned about the po­ten­tial for vot­ers be­ing pres­sured to cast their bal­lots for cer­tain can­di­dates. He cited the ex­am­ple of union of­fi­cials throw­ing vot­ing par­ties at which mem­bers are ex­pected to mark their bal­lots and leave them be­hind.

“Here, you know for a fact that ev­ery sin­gle voter is get­ting a mailin bal­lot and the op­por­tu­nity for abuse with that is over­whelm­ing,” said Mr. Har­vey.

At the same time, he’s less con­cerned about door-to-door bal­lot har­vest­ing. “If you’re giv­ing your bal­lot to somebody you don’t know, and your bal­lot doesn’t get cast, there’s no­body to blame but your­self,” Mr. Har­vey said.

Mr. Har­vey, a Repub­li­can who served on the state leg­isla­tive com­mit­tee in charge of the elec­tions bill, said he’s also wor­ried about the po­ten­tial for mis­chief from the large num­ber of pre­vi­ously in­ac­tive vot­ers now in the sys­tem.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.