To the inexplicable chagrin of Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler, in its 2013 session, the Colorado Legislature passed a series of voting reforms that will make conducting and participating in elections more expeditious for elections officials and voters alike. The changes, embodied in a measure signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper in May, increase mail voting options, shorten residency requirements for new arrivals to the state and improve the state’s efforts to ensure clean voter rolls. These are all positive steps, affirmed by the bipartisan support that House Bill 1303 enjoyed from county clerks across the state.
Under the new system, all registered voters will receive a mail ballot for each election. Voters can choose whether to fill out and submit that ballot or to vote in person at an election center. The number of election centers in each county will vary according to population; in La Plata County, there will be three centers available for voters to cast their ballots beginning Oct. 28 and running through Election Day on Nov. 5. Those options provide coverage for both the growing number of voters who use mail-in ballots – 74 percent statewide in the 2012, according to La Plata County Clerk Tiffany Lee Parker – as well as those who prefer to vote in person, have moved recently or whose mail ballots do not arrive for whatever reason.
The measure also expands the reach of the mail ballot process by sending them to all registered voters – not just those who requested the document. Further, ballots will be sent to voters regardless of whether they cast a vote in the last general election. That is an important change that might have affected voter turnout previously: those who failed to vote in the most recent general election were marked as “inactive: failed to vote” and stricken from the mail voter rolls. While that did not necessarily preclude voting for those who skipped an election, it added a layer of inconvenience that could serve as a deterrent. The new system rightly eliminates that hurdle.
It also extends voting to more new Coloradans by reducing the residency requirement from 29 days before an election to 22 days. Given advances in technology and the improved interaction between states’ databases, this narrower window can enfranchise more voters while also ensure that voter behavior is on the up and up. Interplay between and among various state databases – including the Department of Corrections and Department of Public Health and Environment, to remove felons and deceased voters, as well as the Secretary of State’s Office – will improve elections officials’ ability to ensure clean voter rolls. That is a critical component of the changes that should ease concerns about voter fraud. With a concerted effort to check and verify voter eligibility, the state is answering many of Gessler’s theoretical concerns about gaps in existing voting procedures.
All told, the changes to Colorado’s voting rules improve access, have the potential to boost voter turnout, contain safeguards to prevent abuse of the system and will save counties money in conducting elections. That is a net positive by any reckoning.