Action at the State Level on National Position

POSITION IN BRIEF:

Protect the right of every citizen to vote; encourage all citizens to vote.

HISTORY

Voting rights has been a basic League principle from the League’s beginning in the women’s suffrage movement. Although never studied, it became a part of the LWVUS program in 1975. Voting Rights was also part of LWVCO program until 1981, when it was dropped because action can be taken on the national position.

In the 1970’s, LWVCO worked for passage of and continues to support: requirements that voters be notified by mail before being purged from registration lists; removal of notarization requirements for absentee ballots.

During the years of 1984-85, LWVCO succeeded in improving voter registration in Colorado. The LWVCO joined a coalition which was successful in putting a citizens’ initiative on the November 1984 ballot. “Motor Voter,” as it was referred to, passed overwhelmingly. It allowed citizens to register to vote when applying for a driver’s license and shortened the deadline for registration.

Our “Motor Voter” act was followed by more expansive national legislation in 1993, which Colorado implemented in 1994, including: voter registration at all motor vehicle licensing sites, by mail, in public assistance offices and those serving the disabled, and at military recruiting offices; residence requirement for voter registration increased from 25 to 30 days; and removal of provisions allowing a member of an elector’s family to register the elector, registration by affidavit, and requirement for branch registration.

In 1990 LWVCO supported an enacted law allowing a qualified elector living anywhere in Colorado to register to vote in any County Clerk’s office in the state. LWVCO also supported legislation that changed the precinct caucus date in Colorado from the first Monday in April to the first Tuesday in April in even numbered years.

Effective July 1, 1993, legislation provided for principals of high schools in Colorado to register citizens to vote under the direction of the County Clerk of each county. Effective July 1, 1994, voter’s registration status is noted on the driver’s license.

The general election of 2000 drew attention to the need to insure voter registration information is up-to-date and accurate in each county and at the state level at the time of an election. LWVCO supported a bill (passed) authorizing the Secretary of State to purchase a state-of-the-art communications system to transfer voter registration information from the motor vehicle offices to the county clerks and from the clerks to the Secretary of State’s office. The modernized system would also be able to report vote tallies quickly, efficiently and securely from the county clerks to the Secretary of State during elections and allow equally quick reporting of votes on election night. Most importantly, it would bring all counties – especially the small and tightly funded ones – onto an efficient registration and vote reporting system.

During 2001, the Secretary of State convened a blue ribbon panel with League representation to review Colorado’s election laws. Specific goals of the panel were: “to streamline the voter registration process, insure election process integrity, and restore public confidence in the election system.”

Several bills concerning changes in the conduct of elections in Colorado were considered by the 2004 and 2005 General Assemblies. One bill allowed voting by mail in local elections; the other allowed counties to create and use voting centers instead of precincts. In 2005, driven by the Help America Vote Act of 2001, which ensured safe and reliable voting, the legislature passed comprehensive changes in areas such as voter registration, provisional voting and voting systems.

Reacting to problems in the prior November election, the 2007 legislature passed two bills. The first bill embraced multiple aspects of the voting process. The League supported two: the use of student IDs as an acceptable form of identification and changes made to previous law on voter registration drives to remove the misdemeanor penalties and to lower fines for “negligent” (as opposed to “willful”) failure to deliver forms to clerk within the timeframe, which was extended from 7 to 15 days. Other aspects of the bill extended the timeframe for election judge training, permitted election judges to work split shifts, and required the Secretary of State to adopt rules for electronic/computer registration book testing. The League supported the second bill that allowed voters to sign up permanently to vote by mail, and created secure ballot drop-off locations and a process for voters to verify receipt of their ballots.

In December 2007 many of the electronic voting machines in the state were decertified. Early in the 2008 session LWVCO-supported SB 189 was passed to amend or rescind decertification orders if identified deficiencies were resolved. The Governor and a bipartisan committee supported the use of paper ballots. The resultant delay while this was thrashed out made planning for the conduct of the 2008 election difficult. As a result there was a heavy, although not exclusive, use of paper ballots at polling places located in precincts, super precincts and vote centers.

In 2009, stemming from the recommendations of the Election Reform Commission appointed at the end of the 2008 session, a bill passed with one provision that allowed the use of the recertified voting machines, including those without a verified voter paper trail (VVPT), until January 1, 2014. LWVCO opposed, as LWVUS has a strong position requiring a VVPT.

In 2010 the Secretary of State formed a Best Practices and Visions Commission; a LWVCO representative was appointed. The goals of the Commission were to make it as easy as possible for every eligible citizen to vote, to make sure every vote is counted accurately, and to limit the opportunity for fraud or abuse. The Commission was dissolved in 2013.

The subjects of Photo IDs and Proof of Citizenship, which are in opposition to League positions, continued to be introduced each year (2007-2012) and defeated.

In 2012 League took a neutral position on a bill to clarify exemptions to the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA). Clerks needed a consistent policy as to how to respond to requests for voted ballots, both as to length of time to respond to such requests and how to redact markings that could identify the voter. Although we agreed that clerks needed time to follow procedures without interruption following an election, we felt the stay period was too long and unreasonably restricted access to public records. That bill passed and in 2013 a follow-up bill was introduced which addressed some of the problems encountered by requesters trying to obtain records. We opposed this bill because of the open-ended wording related to fees/costs associated with transmitting records.

Despite League’s opposition to casting of a ballot via the internet with existing technology, we did support a bill in 2012 that would allow military personnel to receive their ballot via the internet.

The ambitious Voter Access & Modernized Elections Act was introduced and passed during the 2013 session. League approved the contents of the bill, but was disappointed that a compromise was not worked out with regard to the opposition’s main concern: Same Day Registration. The most important features of the bill are:

  • Eliminates the Inactive-Failed to Vote status formerly in statute, so all eligible voters will be mailed a ballot;
  • Offers options for voting: mail in, drop off, or Voter Service and Polling Centers that will be open 15 days prior to elections, except on Sundays.
  • Changes deadlines for establishing residency or submitting voter registrations from 29 to 22 days prior to an election. Voters can register or change their record online through the eighth day prior to the election if signature is already on file.
  • Allows individuals to register up to and including election day at Voting Centers.

In 2013 League supported three successful bills designed to encourage youth to register and vote: the first to allow 16-year-olds who will not be 18 at the next election to preregister, the second to require administrators of juvenile correction facilities to provide election information to individuals confined in their facilities, and the third to require state institutions of higher education to facilitate voter information at the time of school registration.

Colorado’s Secretary of State promoted a bill in 2011 that would have allowed his office to check the voter database against a variety of sources. League opposed the bill, which did not pass. In 2013 another bill was introduced that would have allowed the Secretary of State to cancel voter registration records of noncitizens. Although League supports clean, accurate voter records, we were concerned that the voter should have an opportunity, before the formality of a hearing, to challenge and resolve an error.

The bulk of 2014’s bills had to do with tweaking the provisions in the 2013 Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act and were supported by League. Following problems with recall elections held the previous fall, it was necessary to conform provisions for recall elections in statute with those in the state constitution by establishing election day as the day when elections begin. Another bill made corrections, clarifications and alterations to the Code, such as allowing the military to request ballots electronically and requiring the Secretary of State to make use of the National Change of Address database monthly. The third created the Colorado Local Government Election Code for conducting nonpartisan special district elections not coordinated by a county clerk. It allows the governing body to opt to conduct their election under the Uniform Election Code of 1992, since sections of the modernization bill were not suitable for the relatively simple, small, nonpartisan local elections.

There were also five bills introduced in 2014 and 2015 and ultimately defeated, with League opposition, that would require government-issued photo ID for voting.

A bipartisan, straight-forward bill that League supported that would bring the deadlines for sending ballots to overseas voters for municipal elections into line with deadlines for federal, state and county elections was, at the last minute, amended and substantially weakened.