Scott Gessler registration drive errors cause confusion, more voter suppression claims
When Colorado's Secretary of State announced an unprecedented voter registration initiative last month, he told reporters that the effort wasn't a direct response to criticisms of voter suppression, though he said it would hopefully disprove accusations that he is intimidating voters. But now, some county clerks and voters are saying errors in mailers sent out through the registration campaign are causing more harm than good.
This latest problem for Gessler, a Republican, is bringing some negative attention to an $850,000 effort aimed explicitly at getting more voters across the state to register -- something that the Secretary of State's critics frequently argue should be his priority. That campaign includes television, radio, print and online ads in English and Spanish, and also includes hundreds of thousands of mailers encouraging people to register before the October 9 deadline.
At the press conference unveiling this initiative, Gessler said: "This is the largest voter registration effort in the history of Colorado and, to my knowledge, this is the largest registration effort in the history of any state anywhere in the country."
At the time, it was definitely a change of tone from recent press releases from his office, many of them focused on an effort to identify immigrant voters who may be illegally registered. Watchdog groups said this initiative was based on potentially inaccurate information and might discourage legal voters from going to the polls.
At the news conference, Gessler explained that his office would be sending mailings to roughly 961,000 people who they believed were eligible to vote, but not registered. That would translate to about 751,000 postcards total, since staffers would send only one per household. The mailing program has been in the works for about a year, he said, noting that his office got special authorization from the state legislature to spend funds on the initiative.
He also explained that a test run of the mailers had already been sent more would be sent in the coming days and weeks.
Then, last week, Westword got a call from eighty-year-old Alfonso Rios, an upset voter who received one of the mailers despite being registered.
The Secretary of State's office sent us this template of the postcard.
Why was Rios so upset? Because, he said, he has been voting for decades and has always been registered. He even voted in a recent primary. So it was alarming to him when he saw a mailer saying he was eligible, but not registered.
Courtesy of Rich Coolidge
"It's kind of frightening thing," says Rios, who lives in Thorton and is retired. "It pissed me off.... What the hell are they talking about I'm not registered to vote? If I'm not registered, I'd sure as hell like to no why."
Continue reading for more on how this problem affected Adams County.