DENVER — Heading into the final month of a highly partisan and controversial legislative session in which they’ve already passed civil unions, in-state tuition and gun control legislation, Democrats aren’t letting up.
On Wednesday, Democratic lawmakers will introduce another bill guaranteed to spark yet another political battle royale: an omnibus elections bill that will allow residents to register to vote as late as Election Day and direct county clerks to mail ballots to every voter.
“This is a partisan power play,” said Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler, a Republican, who says the bill’s backers didn’t include his office or any GOP lawmakers in drafting the legislation. “It is not a bipartisan effort to have all voices at the table.”
Last November, nearly three of every four Colorado voters cast their ballots by mail.
The Colorado County Clerks Association, which requested many of the provisions that will be included in the legislation in a letter to lawmakers late last year, announced its support for the measure on Tuesday.
“The voters really want mail ballots. We’ve got 72 percent of the voters who want that. And we’ve also got voters who want to cast their votes early,” said Donetta Davidson, a former Colorado Secretary of State, the director of the clerks group and a Republican. “It gives the voter all these options about how they want to vote.”
Gessler opposes many of the changes being proposed and has argued ever since taking office that same-day registration and wider use of mail ballots will lead to voter fraud.
“”We perform better than all mail ballot states, we perform better than the vast majority of same-day registration states. There is no need for this bill,” Gessler told FOX31 Denver Wednesday. “I think what this is really going to do is open the door to vote fraud.”
Gessler has also pushed to tighten voter identification laws, something he believes is a must before same-day registration is implemented.
Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, a former county clerk, agrees with Gessler about same-day registration.
“I don’t think the state is anywhere close to being able to manage same-day registration just from a technological standpoint,” Murray told FOX31 Denver Wednesday. “Without the correct technology out there in the counties, this could be fraught with fraud.”
The bill’s Democratic sponsors and the clerks supporting it counter that the bill will provide the technology so that all 64 county clerks can track voter registration forms and ballots in real-time across the state.
“It’s live information that we would be checking for the very first time,” Davidson said. “If someone already has a mail ballot but shows up to vote in person, that mail ballot is cancelled out electronically.
“We need to update our systems into the 21st century,” added Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, the sponsor of House Bill 1303, which was officially introduced late Wednesday afternoon. “We will know when someone’s voted and we will be able to track that.”
“It requires every single clerk and recorder at every single location to constantly be connected to the internet. It’s possible, but it’s expensive,” Gessler countered.
The new technology will cost money in the short term, but, proponents hope, save money in the long run — and make it easier to detect fraud.
“I think the voters will really like it because they’ll know that our elections are more secure,” said Davidson, who hopes that the bill will eventually garner bipartisan support.
That’s not seeming all that likely, at least not if a late afternoon press release from Colorado GOP Chairman Ryan Call is any indication.
“Never before in the history of Colorado has one party made such sweeping changes to our electoral process without working across the aisle,” Call said. “Democrats met behind closed doors with liberal interest groups, unions and their attorneys to come up with a plan that will help their special interests at the expense of the citizens of our state.”
The bill will get its first hearing at the Capitol on Monday.