Scott Gessler: Inside Colorado's charges and prosecutions of voter fraud

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This week's cover story on Scott Gessler delves into two of the Republican Secretary of State's biggest controversies -- allegations that he misused public dollars for partisan travels and accusations that he has suppressed voters. Gessler earned the latter criticisms for his initiatives to prevent voter fraud, and for our story, we researched the extent to which these crimes have been committed and prosecuted. Here, we take a closer look at the small number of actual voter fraud cases in Colorado.

As we outlined in our feature, Gessler, prior to his criminal and ethics allegations, received most of his attention for efforts to identify and remove non-citizens from the voter rolls. Gessler and his staff have repeatedly argued that there are loopholes in the state's registration system. They believe it's easy for non-citizens to end up on the rolls, and if they do end up voting -- and Gessler is confident that at least a dozen have -- they are breaking the law.

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Photo by Mark Manger
Scott Gessler inside his office.
To test the theory of some voter groups, which argue that Gessler has blown the alleged fraud problem out of proportion, we contacted Jessica Zender, a policy analyst with the Colorado Judicial Branch's Division of Planning and Analysis. She ran a check on all cases from 2002 through December of last year that involve violations of state statutes that cover voter fraud.

In her search, she found a total of 39 different cases during that time frame, involving 48 different charges (since some cases involved multiple allegations). Of those, sixteen actually led to convictions. Fourteen individuals were found guilty and the other two involved deferred sentences.

The remaining charges were likely dismissed. Zender tells us it's possible the cases could be ongoing, but it seems unlikely, since most of the charges were filed before 2011. In fact, all but ten of the 48 charges were filed before 2010, prior to when Gessler became Secretary of State.

To get a more localized perspective on the scope of fraud cases, we also checked in with Denver County Clerk Debra Johnson and Denver Elections Division -- and officials there told us that they could recall only two cases in Denver since 2005 that involved prosecution.

One involved a voter registration drive in which election officials observed suspicious patterns with signatures. The other dealt with a voter who cast a ballot in the name of his mother, who had died.

Denver officials also note that they regularly refer names to the District Attorney's office, most often when they observe signature discrepancies in mail ballots and voters don't respond to their requests to resolve those discrepancies.

For example, in 2010 primary, 527 names were sent to the DA's office and in the general election that year, 477 names were passed along. In 2011, that number was 479, and in the 2012 primary, 287 were submitted.

This appears to be a routine process related to signature verification; it has not generally led to charges or prosecutions.

Continue for more details on the statewide statistics and the full list of voter fraud cases and prosecutions since 2002.

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