Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler, who is also a candidate for governor, has been consistent in his political position on voting rules: namely that any move toward less restrictive, more inclusive procedures is a mistake. That is hardly a creative criticism – Republicans tend to oppose rules that ease polling access because such measures tend to benefit Democrat-leaning voters. Gessler’s creativity has come in the way he is blaming Colorado’s new rules for busting his budget, despite the fact that it was his own policies that did so.
Among the secretary of state’s primary duties, aside from overseeing elections, is administering businesses in Colorado and collecting associated fees. Those fees are used to fund the rest of the office’s functions, including election-related work. Gessler has touted his work to ease the road businesses must travel through the secretary of state’s office – including reducing fees paid. That included a three-month fee holiday that triggered a $3 million loss in revenues for Gessler’s office.
But Gessler is not mentioning this. Instead, he is blaming changes in voting laws – changes he vehemently opposed. While the new rules do have some budgetary implications for the secretary of state that warrant Gessler’s criticism – particularly because he had little time to review the measure before it was considered by the Colorado Legislature – they pale in comparison to his own policies’ effect.
The sums are significant. Gessler’s office had a $7 million surplus in July 2012; that plunged to $2 million one year later and has continued to fall to levels that have legislators concerned that the general fund will have to supplement Gessler’s budget. That is hardly sound financial management on Gessler’s part. He took what was an excessive surplus – so much so that it violated state law – and turned it a cash-flow problem. And he is attempting to lay blame where it does not belong.
This is made worse by the fact that Gessler’s finger-pointing is so blatantly partisan. Since his election in 2010, Gessler has stirred controversy around voting in Colorado by being consistently opposed to any notion that expands enfranchisement. He has levied unsubstantiated accusations about illegal voting activity and ordered Denver and Pueblo counties – both of which are Democratic strongholds – to not mail ballots to voters who missed one general election. Gessler’s latest target, last year’s House Bill 1303, which increases voter participation by allowing same-day registration and sending mail ballots to all of the state’s registered voters, drew his ire. As the state’s chief election official, he can and should strive to expand voter access; he has consistently done the opposite.
Instead of ever being accountable for this position, Gessler is now doubling down, blaming rules he disagrees with politically for a financial situation that was very much his doing. His first priority – easing the filing requirements and costs for businesses – came at the expense of fiscal prudence. Now he is blaming Democrats for the pickle, and the state might have to swoop in to fix what was a wholly avoidable problem had Gessler created a less ideologically charged environment at the secretary of state’s office. He must be held to account for this disingenuous and disappointing performance.