The Secretary of State's office disputes claims by "Block the Vote" co-author and Rolling Stone contributor Greg Palast

Categories: Media
coffman_sm.jpg
Mike Coffman.

"'Block the Vote' co-author and Rolling Stone contributor Greg Palast on Colorado's troubled voting system," an October 28 blog, features comments made by BBC journalist Greg Palast, who partnered with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to produce "Block the Vote," a piece in the October 30 issue of Rolling Stone. His comments include broadsides aimed at two Denver Post reporters -- read their responses here -- in addition to numerous accusations against former Colorado Secretary of State Donetta Davidson; her successor, Mike Coffman; and Coffman's current staff. Below, read the specific charges and refutations by Richard Coolidge, public information officer for the Secretary of State's office -- and see an e-mail exchange in which Coolidge undercuts information assembled by an agency that Davidson helps oversee.

According to Palast, Coffman and his staffers were singularly uncooperative when he contacted them during the research phase of "Block the Vote." Here's the key passage:

“I work for the BBC, and starting in June, we put in formal Freedom of Information Act requests to your Secretary of State. Several formal requests. And we’ve been stonewalled on receiving information. I said I would speak to Mr. Coffman. I said I would speak to his press spokesman. Go to the Rolling Stone website. You’ll see a video of me on a cell phone in front of the Colorado Secretary of State’s office saying, ‘I’m right downstairs.’ And they wouldn’t talk to us. And then Coffman’s press secretary [Coolidge] had the balls to write a letter saying that I wrote about 19.4 percent of voters’ names being removed, and that was completely false – meaning that he thinks Donetta Davidson has issued false information. And he also said that I never spoke to him. And we were begging to talk to them. They would not even return our phone calls. In fact, the only response I got was when they called BBC in Washington and London saying that I was harassing them. And they said, ‘That’s what we pay him to do.’"

Before we get to Coolidge's comments, here's the e-mail Palast alludes to above. It was forwarded to him by a correspondent named Richard Rose, and Coolidge confirms its authenticity:

From: Richard Rose Sent: Thursday, July 31, 2008 12:32 PM To: Public Elections Subject: BBC: Colorado's Illegal Voter Purge, Using Caging Lists


Hello--

A BBC reporter is reporting this:

In swing-state Colorado, the Republican Secretary of State conducted the biggest purge of voters in history, dumping a fifth of all registrations. Guess their color. In swing-state Florida, the state is refusing to accept about 85,000 new registrations from voter drives - overwhelming Black voters.

In swing state New Mexico, HALF of the Democrats of Mora, a dirt poor and overwhelmingly Hispanic county, found their registrations disappeared this year, courtesy of a Republican voting contractor.

In swing states Ohio and Nevada, new federal law is knocking out tens of thousands of voters who lost their homes to foreclosure.

As a Colorado voter, I want to know how and why this happened, what you are doing to undo the damage and how you will prevent such illegal caging by governmental, (supposedly) non-partisan departments and officials in the future.

I intend to go to the press and blogs to push for wider distribution of this story.

Thank you.

Richard Rose

From: Richard Coolidge
Sent: Thursday, July 31, 2008 1:07 PM
To: Richard Rose
Subject: RE: Colorado's Illegal Voter Purge, Using Caging Lists

Richard-

Thanks for your email. Before you go to the press or blogs, wouldn’t you prefer to have facts? Does it strike you at all that this claim isn’t backed up with anything? As you read Mr. Palast’s entry further, it is simply a fundraising request intended to line his pockets.

Here are the facts for you:

1) The Colorado Secretary of State’s office does not cancel voters nor does it have that ability. Only the counties.

2) Colorado voter registration forms do not contain any fields for any racial or ethnic information.

3) Colorado clerks follow state law and NVRA in cancelling any voter

Cancelling 1/5 of all registrations would mean that almost 600,000 voters would have been removed from the rolls. Our office provides on our web site monthly tracking of voter registration numbers going back to 2004 (http://www.elections.colorado.gov/DDefault.aspx?tid=719). We have even more records in our office. Additionally, voters can check their registration status on our web site (http://www.sos.state.co.us/Voter/voterHome.do;jsessionid=0000QlBp7qrdd1E9ysKzDFyDdlc:121vl9gps).

I appreciate you checking with us before seeking a greater audience. Hopefully, this will calm your fears and help us quash this awful, meritless rumor.

Rich Coolidge

PIO

Palast's assertion about Colorado purging one-fifth of voters from its rolls is based on a report by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, which says that 19.4 percent of the names were removed from 2004 to 2006. (See the appropriate page of the document by clicking here.) Davidson is currently the vice chair of the commission and was a signatory of the report.

Nevertheless, Coolidge says the 19.4 percent figure is misleading because "Colorado handles cancellations in a different way" than most states -- and uses his own situation as an example. "During the 2004-2006 time frame, my voter registration was cancelled twice, but I'm still an active voter," he says. How's that possible? "Because I moved within two counties," he explains. "When I moved from county to county, the voter registration was cancelled in one county and activated in a new county. So since I moved between counties, I have two cancellations under my name, but I can still vote." In his view, such peculiarities probably account for the hefty percentage Palast mentions. "Obviously, one-fifth of the voters aren't gone. Most of them are still on the voter roles, but they've had cancellations previously."

As for Palast's claim that the Secretary of State's office "stonewalled" him, Coolidge insists otherwise -- sort of. "Typically, I don't participate with self-proclaimed journalists who write something and then do their fact-checking later," he says. "But he did file an open-records request with our office asking for information about every canceled voter since 2004 -- the reason they were canceled, the date they were canceled. And we were happy to provide that information to him" in September.

Palast says otherwise -- but Coolidge agrees that no one from the Secretary of State's office actually spoke to him. "We kept hearing different things from him," Coolidge claims. "I didn't know what kind of reporter he was. First, he said he was with the BBC, and I contacted them -- but I kept getting the runaround. We didn't get confirmation from the BBC until later. Until then, from our perspective, he was a blogger. But we gave him the data he needed to correct his statement, and he never did that."

Of course, it's still a bit odd that Coolidge would be so forthcoming (albeit snippy) in his e-mail to Rose, who doesn't identify himself as a journalist, but resist communicating with someone affiliated with the BBC. Then again, the story isn't one that casts the Colorado Secretary of State's office in a positive light, as is clear from Kennedy's recent appearance on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show. The segment, which kicks off with references to Colorado and Davidson, can be accessed here. -- Michael Roberts

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