As Many As Ten Thousand Of Eligible Colorado Voter Registrations At Risk

Voting rights experts urge Colorado officials to modify policy and protect all Colorado voters’ rights

October 13, 2008

DENVER, CO – Voting rights experts urged the Colorado Secretary of State today to immediately modify a policy regarding voter registration forms that threatens to jeopardize the eligibility of tens of thousands of Colorado voters. In a letter sent to Secretary Mike Coffman (see attached), the Brennan Center for Justice, Colorado Common Cause, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, ACLU of Colorado, the Advancement Project, Fair Elections Legal Network, SEIU, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) asked that the state accept registration applications that contain all necessary identifying information, but lack a checkmark in a superfluous box. Currently, the state is considering these applications “incomplete.” If this policy goes unchanged, tens of thousands of eligible Colorado voters could be denied their rights.

“This indefensible policy unfairly punishes a significant portion of the Colorado electorate over an unnecessary technicality,” said Jenny Flanagan at Colorado Common Cause. “Coloradans did their part by filling out voter registration forms with all the information necessary to confirm their identities and in compliance with training manuals put out by the SOS” office. Now, election officials need to do their part to ensure these people’s votes count on election.”

In accordance with the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (“HAVA”), the Colorado voter registration form asks voters to provide a state-issued identifying number—either a Driver’s License or Department of Revenue identification number. Eligible Coloradoans who do not have either number are asked to provide the last four digits of their Social Security Number. The problem arises when a voter provides her Social Security digits but does not check a box to affirmatively indicate that she does not have the requested state-issued numbers. According to voting rights experts, these applications include all the necessary information for establishing eligibility and should therefore be counted.

Treating applications without checkmarks as incomplete is inconsistent with both the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and Section 1971 of the Voting Rights Act. Like the butterfly ballot that led to the 2000 election debacle in Florida, Coloradans will be treated unfairly because of the poor design and guidance from the state. In fact, some registration applications don’t clearly indicate that failing to check the box will render the application incomplete. Moreover, the system for rectifying these mistakes proposed by the state is rife with potential for administrative failure leading to more eligible votes lost.

As many as ten thousand applications have been affected by this policy to date. If it is kept in place, that number will likely increase dramatically between now and November 4th, threatening to disenfranchise thousands more Colorado voters and the integrity of our electoral system.

For all media inquiries, please contact Laura Rodriguez.

Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund