Credit cards and computers make it possible for you to do really important things privately and without human intervention — like getting cash from an ATM even when you’re traveling abroad.
The possibility of fraud is so low the banks figure it’s worth the risk.
Shouldn’t you then be able to handle relatively trivial matters the same way — like casting your vote in an election involving thousands or even millions?
Apparently not. The possibility of fraud must be too high. Instead, Colorado is determined to turn back the clock and rely increasingly on — snail mail!
The U.S. Postal Service is quickly going the way of newspapers. It’s used mainly for writing the Christmas thank-you note to the great-grandma who has no computer, or for paying bills by a few old fogies who haven’t turned that chore over to the bank. Other than that, it’s the U.S. Catalog Delivery Service. It’s basically bankrupt — or will be soon unless bailed out by Congress.
Still, more than 70 percent of the state’s voters have asked for mail ballots in recent elections. It’s more relaxing to take your time voting at your kitchen table instead of waiting in a long line in the snow. Under House Bill 1303, now on Gov. John Hickenlooper’s desk, everyone would be sent a ballot by mail. Ballots would go even to those inactive voters who haven’t voted in an election or three and who may well have died or moved away.
Some of these ballots might be returned to the county clerk as undeliverable. Some might be thrown away by the new tenants. Others …
But you have to sign your ballot when you return it. Since signatures are supposed to be checked, wouldn’t that discourage the person tempted to vote a ballot that isn’t his?
“It’s as much an art as a science,” said Secretary of State Scott Gessler of signature checking, even when it’s done by representatives of both parties.
The bill would reduce from 29 to 22 the number of days before an election that you must register through the mail, a voter registration agency or a registration drive.
That’s certainly reasonable. Not reasonable is a provision that would also allow you to go to a “vote center” up to and including election day to register and vote. You have to produce some sort of document, but it wouldn’t have to be a photo ID. You could show something as insignificant as a utility bill. One committee witness demonstrated how easy it is to forge such a bill.
A quarter of the population still prefers voting at a polling place, perhaps because of the tradition, or because they’re afraid a family member will coerce them into making choices they don’t like on a mail ballot — or even fill out the ballot for them. This happens.
For them the bill requires counties to establish vote centers.There would be many fewer of them than there were precinct polling places in the old days — just one for every 30,000 people during the early voting period, one for every 15,000 on election day.
Anyone could vote at any center, because each would be connected electronically to the statewide voter base. At least in theory.
But the bill would take effect July 1 and is supposed to be implemented for the general election this fall. That gives the counties only 3 1/2 months to make sure the system works by the time early voting begins in mid-October.
Which brings back the unhappy memory of the 2006 general election in Denver. The city used vote centers, but the computers didn’t work and the long lines kept many from voting. It was described in the papers as a fiasco.
There’s a small possibility the memory of that might make Hickenlooper (mayor of Denver in 2006) veto the elections bill. “Maybe we shouldn’t double down on the mistakes we made six years ago,” said Gessler.
True, the odd-year ballot this fall will be relatively short, but it will probably feature a proposed $1 billion tax hike to benefit public schools.
The bill has the support of the Colorado County Clerks Association — although plenty of the clerks from large counties such as El Paso, Douglas and Arapahoe oppose it. The clerks like the all-mail part. They don’t have to hire and train so many election judges, and most ballots arrive well ahead of election day. That means they can be counted ahead of time, making substantial results available shortly after the polls close. No more late night for the clerks!
The unions and other Democratic interests like the same-day voting provision because, they say, it will get more people out to vote. Republicans are naturally suspicious of voters who can’t be bothered to register until election day. The bill was drafted without the input of Gessler or any Republican lawmaker. Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, tried to delay inevitable passage by asking that the 132-page bill be read at length by the clerk — a process that took over two hours. Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, moved to rename the bill “The Same-Day Voter Fraud Act.”
This, as well as more serious GOP amendments, like requiring photo ID to register, all failed on party-line votes during a debate that lasted past midnight last week. The bill itself passed on a 20-15 party-line vote.
Media Trackers, a conservative blog, recently quoted Gessler as saying that statistics show that states with all-mail ballots suffer a decline in voter turnout. The Republicans can only hope that is true. But obviously the Democrats don’t believe it. The implementation of SB 1303 might make it possible for them to get the extra votes they need.
Longtime Rocky Mountain News political columnist Peter Blake now writes Thursdays for CompleteColorado.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org You may re-publish his work at no charge and without further permission; please give full credit to Peter Blake and www.CompleteColorado.com