Dubofsky calls for openness from Gessler on 'voter purge'

Since he assumed office in 2011, Secretary of State Scott Gessler has spent a great deal of time and energy trying to fight voter fraud in Colorado, despite the fact that there is scant evidence of such fraud in our state. We fully support integrity in our elections and the voting process, but we also believe that the right to vote is fundamental to what it means to be an American. We believe caution and care, not overzealousness, should guide the secretary.

One of the Bell's founders, Jean Dubofsky, a former Colorado Supreme Court justice, wrote a column this morning in The Denver Post that calls on Gessler to be open and transparent in how he proceeds with efforts to check for and remove "ineligible" voters.

Here is Dubofsky's column:

Guest Commentary: How open will Gessler be?

By Jean E. Dubofsky

When we send in a mail-in ballot or vote at our polling place, we rightly assume that if we are eligible and registered to vote, our vote will be counted.

But all that could change in the fall. Now that Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler has gotten the green light to move forward with his voter purge, any eligible voter can be mistakenly knocked off the voter rolls and denied the right to vote.

And perhaps worst of all, the eligible voter might only find out when he or she shows up to vote; and by then, it's too late.

Take, for example, the case of Bill Internicola. Internicola is a 91-year-old, Brooklyn-born World War II veteran, but a poorly designed voter purge by the state of Florida mistakenly identified him as a "non-citizen." A veteran who defended our country was forced to prove his citizenship status to secure his fundamental right to vote.

Or Maureen Russo, a dog-kennel owner in Florida who was informed by state officials that she was not eligible to cast a ballot because she wasn't born in the United States. Florida officials failed to recognize Russo was born in Ohio and had been registered to vote for the past four decades.

If this can happen to Internicola and Russo, it can happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime. When purges happen, eligible voters are caught up in the process. And Colorado is not immune.

In fact, in 2008, then-Secretary of State Mike Coffman incorrectly purged hundreds of eligible voters from the rolls because their names were similar to those of other ineligible voters. The only thing that stopped him was a lawsuit filed against him by voters' rights organizations.

Because these types of mistakes are so common, Gessler needs to provide clear rules and guidelines for removing a voter, and the process for any removal must be open and transparent.

And Gessler must also comply with state law for how agencies adopt these rules, allowing them to move forward only after the public has been given notice and sufficient opportunity to weigh in with their concerns in a hearing before the secretary of state.

But as of now, Gessler's process is still shrouded in mystery.

Fighting for the integrity of the election system is a two-way street. It means allowing only legitimate voters into the polls. But just as important, it also means protecting the rights of qualified, registered voters to exercise the constitutional right to cast a ballot.

Any system that the secretary develops for reviewing a voter's qualifications will only pass muster if each citizen who has met the tests for voting – he or she is at least 18 years of age, a U.S. citizen, and resident of Colorado for 30 days or more – is assured that his or her right to vote is protected.

That's an absolute protection, not something within a statistical margin of error.

The American people have pressing issues to deal with every day – paying the bills, saving for our kids' education, putting food on the table and so on. The last thing eligible voters should have to worry about is whether a bureaucratic error will remove them from the voter rolls.

Yet time and time again, misguided and poorly designed efforts to "purge" non-eligible voters from the rolls spring up in states across the country. And time and time again, eligible American voters are incorrectly identified by the government for removal. We can't let that happen in Colorado.

So the question for Secretary Gessler is how open will he be in this process, and how much public accountability will the process allow?

Voting is at the heart of what it means to be an American, so let's all put partisan politics aside to safeguard this fundamental right of our democracy.

Jean E. Dubofsky is an attorney in private practice in Boulder and a former justice of the Colorado Supreme Court.

 


Article posted on July 25, 2012