Elections, Politics, Wayne Laugesen

Special session needed to fix flawed Colorado election law

It’s time for Gov. John Hickenlooper to fix a bad bill he signed into law.

Last week’s successful recalls did more than remind politicians whom they work for by replacing two powerful senators. Campaigns advocating the recalls also highlighted some of the absurd legislation sponsored and rushed through by Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, and Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo.

icon_op_edAmong the bad maneuvers was House Bill 1303. The new law undoes traditional checks and balances that have kept elections fair. Gone are assurances that only lawful residents of a jurisdiction get to vote in an election. Before HB1303, only the tinfoil hat crowd worried much about election fraud. Today, with HB1303, it’s a legitimate concern.

The Gazette has long supported Hickenlooper because of his background in small business. We enthusiastically asked voters to elect him when the Republican Party offered no better alternatives. We’re not interested in blaming the governor; we just want him to fix the problem.

With November elections ahead of us, Hickenlooper should seek the assistance of his party and recommend a short special legislative session to rephrase parts of HB1303. It shouldn’t take but a few hours to get this thing right before November brings multiple elections throughout the state. Fixing the law could prevent lawsuits and additional public anxiety.

Unlike the recall, the November elections won’t involve just one Senate district under the watchful eyes of Colorado’s secretary of state and countless political observers. It will include every political jurisdiction in the state and none will be able to watch closely for out-of-bounds voting.

We know the law can be abused, which is obvious to anyone who reads it. Any question about the biggest flaw in HB1303 was eliminated when Jon Caldara, a Boulder resident and president of Colorado’s Independence Institute, cast a blank ballot in the District 11 recall to make a point.

That was a high-profile stunt, and authorities could do nothing to stop it because of HB1303. Even prosecution, which seems difficult given the language of the bill, would not have stopped Caldara’s vote from counting had he actually completed the ballot. Imagine how many special-interest votes could be cast stealthily if election officials can’t even stop an act of civil disobedience committed in broad daylight with cameras rolling. Heck, it wasn’t even real disobedience. Some lawyers argue the law allowed it.

While much of HB1303 is bad, the biggest gripe involves residency.

Traditionally, one had to have roots in a community before voting in it. Not now. The wording below clearly shows that one can show up in a jurisdiction on the day of an election and vote with nothing more than an “intention” of making the place a permanent home. All the bluster about fraud prosecutions means little, given this law:

If a person moves from one county or precinct in this state to another with the intention of making the new county or precinct a permanent residence, the person is considered to have residence in the county or precinct to which the person moved.

This gives almost any Coloradan – especially those among us who are willing to lie – an easy opportunity to vote in local elections. Want to pass or kill a local school tax? Bring in voters willing to state an “intention” to move. Want to undo a municipal gun law? Ask impassioned gun-rights activists to show up and state their intentions to move. Supporters of Morse and Giron may never know whether out-of-jurisdiction voting hurt their senators, though no good evidence suggests it did.

Even if county officials can prosecute, they have no good means of detecting such activity. If they did, tracking down suspects and prosecuting them – by disproving their intentions beyond reasonable doubt – is a long way around. Even if successful, prosecutions won’t undo the damage.

Gov. Hickenlooper and legislators, get together and improve this law before November. Find a way to ensure that only bona fide residents get to vote in local elections.

Wayne Laugesen is editorial page editor of the Colorado Springs Gazette, where this editorial first appeared

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