Gessler wants to purge voter database

DENVER – Secretary of State Scott Gessler will push for criminal investigations of people with suspect voter registration unless the Legislature gives him the power to clean up the voter database, he said Wednesday.

Gessler, a Republican who took office in January, campaigned on a pledge to rid the state’s voter rolls of noncitizens.

“The bottom line is, we know there’s a problem. We just don’t know how big it is,” Gessler said at a House committee hearing Wednesday.

He testified for House Bill 1252 by Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker. The bill would let Gessler merge the statewide voter database with other state and federal databases to see if all the registered voters are U.S. citizens.

Voters whose registrations are suspect would get a letter from the secretary of state’s office, and they would have 90 days to present proof of citizenship. If they didn’t, they would not be allowed to vote.

The House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee heard testimony on HB 1252 but did not take action on it Wednesday. If it eventually passes the full House, it would face a much higher hurdle in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

The Senate has already killed a Gessler-backed bill to require people to present a proof of citizenship to register to vote.

If the Legislature does not pass a bill, Gessler will check with the attorney general to see if he has the authority to merge the databases anyway. He also will call law enforcement about suspect voter registrations, he said, but he wants to avoid prosecutions by letting his office purge the voter rolls.

Gessler compared the voter database to the driver’s license database and found more than 11,800 people on the voter rolls since 1996 who used a non- citizen form of identification to apply for a driver’s license.

But some of those people might have achieved citizenship after they got their driver’s licenses. Gessler is “very confident” that 106 of those people were improperly registered to vote at some point in the last 15 years.

Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, called Gessler’s methodology “a stretch” and said the databases he wants to use are not intended to prove citizenship.

Gessler’s plan would cause hardship for innocent people, said Jenny Flanagan, executive director of Colorado Common Cause, a left-leaning group that monitors the integrity of elections and government.

“There will be false positives on this sort of data check, and many individuals who in fact are eligible will be required to go through these burdensome hoops to prove their citizenship,” Flanagan said.

There’s no evidence that even if people are improperly registered to vote, they are actually voting, Flanagan said.

But Republicans pointed to the 2008 scandal at the defunct liberal group ACORN, which registered many people who were not eligible to vote.

Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, said it was “preposterous” to think that no illegally registered people voted.

jhanel@durangoherald.com