DENVER – A measure that would have limited elections crimes in Colorado opened still-lingering wounds Wednesday.
A wide spectrum of elections-law activists – some who often passionately are divided – lined up to testify against the measure, which was killed in a House committee.
Opponents pointed to several incidents of manipulation, including “ballot-marking parties,” in which a campaign encourages voters to get together to mark their ballots with the aim of coercing votes for a candidate or issue.
Other anecdotal stories included examples of voters selling their ballots. Clerks spoke of people selling votes for either a beer or a couple-hundred dollars.
The issue gained shape as all-mail voting was implemented in Colorado. A measure passed by Democrats in 2013 required that all voters receive a mail ballot, raising questions around privacy and security.
But Rep. Paul Rosenthal, D-Denver, said there are freedom-of-speech issues at play also.
The measure he brought Wednesday would have narrowed the crime of disclosing how a person voted to individuals performing an elections-related job. The measure also would have allowed voters to show someone else their ballot.
Rosenthal pointed out that voters often share their ballots with family members and friends. With the rise in social media, many voters shared their ballots on Facebook and other online forums during the November election.
“The purpose of the bill is to allow voters to express their First Amendment free-speech rights,” Rosenthal said shortly after his measure was defeated. “If they want to show someone their completed ballot, they should be able to do so. This is something that families do around the kitchen table by the thousands all over our state.”
But the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee disagreed with Rosenthal, voting unanimously to kill the measure.
A long string of activists lined up to testify against the bill. Their testimony was buoyed by comments from Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert, who said the risk of fraud has been exacerbated by mail voting. But Staiert also acknowledged that there have not been any related prosecutions.
Still, clerks and voters are worried about a slippery slope leading to fraud.
“This is not an issue that is gone, or that is long past,” testified Matt Crane, Arapahoe County clerk and recorder. “It is something that we have to be very careful with in terms of protecting against.”
Marilyn Marks, a well-known elections activist who has filed several lawsuits stemming from alleged violations, said all-mail voting means more security is needed.
“With mandatory mail ballots, voters need more protection, not less protection,” she said.
Rep. Su Ryden, D-Aurora, chairwoman of the committee, pointed out that so many different sides of the elections debate came together to oppose the measure.
“We don’t often see all these people agreeing on a bill,” Ryden said. “For me, that means there is still some work to be done.”