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Elections overhaul passes Senate after long debate

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DENVER — A sweeping overhaul of Colorado elections that will allow voters to register as late as Election Day is almost on its way to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s desk after passing the full Senate Thursday on a party-line vote.

The 20-15 vote, with all Democrats in favor of and all Republicans against the measure, came after a four-hour debate with almost every Republican senator arguing that bill will open up the state’s elections to rampant fraud.

“You’re already winning the elections,” Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, said. “Do you need to steal them too?”

The Colorado Association of County Clerks, which is made up more Republicans than Democrats, helped draft the bill and supports it. But Republicans at the Capitol and Secretary of State Scott Gessler have called House Bill 1303 a “partisan power play” aimed at helping Democrats consolidate recent electoral gains that will open the voting process up to rampant fraud.

Sponsors say the legislation, which also would send mail ballots to all voters and put all 64 county clerks on a single electronic database that can track registration forms and ballots in real time, will bring Colorado elections into the 21st Century.

“Yes, we are trying to make it more accessible,” said Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo. “Because of the technology, they can feel more secure about people who are casting a ballot.”

Sen Steve King accused Democrats, who control both legislative chambers at the Capitol, of “doing something just because you have the power to do it”; he argued that criminals and anarchists will try to find holes in the new system.

“There are people out there that, if they have the opportunity — you can’t tell me a group of anarchists, looking at a way to overthrow our government — why would we give them an opportunity to do that?” King asked.

Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, an avid cyclist, spoke about disgraced Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, who, in Brophy’s telling, had to cheat because all of his competitors already were; his point: that a new system that favors Democrats and is susceptible to fraud may encourage other political groups to skirt the law as well.

Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, D-Adams County, blasted Republicans over a controversial mailer that went out criticizing Republican clerks who supported the bill; and he pointed out that it was mailed from Gessler’s former law firm, which handles election-related matters.

Ulibarri questioned the Photo-Shopping of a photo on the mailer so that African-Americans shown standing in line to vote were covered up with white faces and charged that the all-white Senate GOP caucus was opposing the bill because it might enable more minorities to vote.

Gessler, who no longer works for the firm, has denied any involvement with the group responsible for the mailer.

The legislation must go back to the House, which has to sign off on the Senate’s changes to the bill, before heading to Hickenlooper’s desk.