Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler on Tuesday told Weld County residents he is alarmed by a decline in voters’ confidence in elections — a concern at the center of many of his actions in the past year that have drawn criticism from liberal groups.
In a meeting hosted at the Weld County Elections office to hear feedback and suggestions following the recent election, Gessler rehashed to about a dozen Weld County residents his stance on issues such as noncitizen and inactive voters and touted the successes of the last election, which included a highly visited online voter registration system.
Joe Perez, former chairman of the Weld Democrats, said he was concerned with Gessler’s actions just before the election to identify noncitizens on voter rolls — a move critics said would disenfranchise eligible voters.
Gessler said he sent about 3,900 letters to people questioning their citizenship because he was concerned noncitizen votes could dilute eligible votes and to protect noncitizens, who could be deported if they voted in the election.
“I think the vast majority of people who are noncitizens on our voter rolls are there by mistake,” Gessler said at the meeting. “A lot of people fill out the forms and say they are not citizens, but they think they can register to vote. ... My frustration is a lot of people don’t even want to discuss this issue or bring it up.”
A part of the problem, Perez said, could be that noncitizens don’t understand they are not eligible to vote and agree to register to vote at the Division of Motor Vehicles when asked about it.
“It’s an opportunity for improvement,” Gessler said.
Weld Clerk and Recorder Steve Moreno said about 100 people are turned over to the county district attorney’s office each election, most commonly for signatures that cannot be verified. It’s usually reconciled pretty quickly, Moreno said — oftentimes one spouse will sign for another, or someone broke an arm and produced a different signature. But there are some cases when the integrity of a vote is compromised, he said.
Another at the meeting questioned Gessler’s efforts in 2011 to stop some Colorado counties from sending ballots to inactive voters — eligible voters who did not vote in the last general election and did not respond to mailings about the upcoming election.
Gessler said the move was a cost-saver. Inactive voters can still show up at polling places to vote, he said, and it takes two minutes to go online and update their status.
“I have been very strongly on the side that this is a good distinction,” he said. “Others have another viewpoint.”
Even so, Gessler said he has been working with Denver authorities on a compromise, but did not want to divulge the details of that compromise until both parties discuss it more.
Jean Hoffman, a longtime resident of Greeley, said she wasn’t sure she liked seeing police at polling places.
“I think it discourages and intimidates people,” she said.
Moreno said some places, such as schools, require the security. He said there were five security-related incidents in November, including some election judges who were threatened.
Gessler said he does not view police at polling places as an issue.
“There’s no evidence that it has actually discouraged people,” he said.
Gessler also touched on Greeley resident Carol Burkhart’s question on the tens of thousands of voters in Colorado who are on the permanent mail-in list but wish to vote at polling places on Election Day. It’s a challenge, Gessler said, because he must ensure that voters don’t cast two ballots.