DENVER (AP) – A proposal to enhance penalties for lying to suppress voting is the latest divisive voting measure to hit Colorado’s Legislature.
The Democratic Senate gave preliminary approval Wednesday to a bill making it a felony to intentionally lie about an election with the “intent to prevent a person from voting.” Such behavior is already illegal, but Democratic Sen. Irene Aguilar said penalties should be tougher.
“Deceiving voters about any aspect of the voting process should be patently illegal,” she said. Aguilar’s bill would cover lying about when elections are held – the old, dirty trick of telling likely opponents an election is Wednesday – and lying about eligibility or where to vote.
Republicans countered that the crime is rare already. A fiscal analysis prepared for lawmakers wouldn’t estimate the cost of Aguilar’s bill – because analysts projected zero prison sentences if the bill were law.
“What exactly are we trying to fix here?” asked Republican Sen. Kevin Grantham of Canon City.
The lying-to-voters bill is the latest measure getting Colorado’s divided Legislature fired up. Republicans have a one-vote majority in the House, so lawmakers from both parties are keeping a close eye on bills suggesting changes to how people vote.
While Senate Democrats were talking about lying to voters Wednesday, a committee in the GOP House was expected to again forward a bill to require voters to show photo IDs. The same proposal was adopted by the House last year but defeated in the Senate, where Democrats argued there is scant evidence of voter impersonation, and that the change could suppress voting among ethnic minorities and elderly people.
Colorado is one of 16 states that requires identification at the polls but not necessarily photo IDs. Coloradans can use utility bills and bank statements as proof of identification. Republicans including Colorado’s top elections official, Secretary of State Scott Gessler, say requiring photo ID could reduce the possibility of voting fraud.
Gessler has long clashed with Democrats over voting rules. By coincidence, a third voting bill up for debate Wednesday was inspired by Gessler.
Democratic Sen. Michael Johnston proposed changing the category of “inactive voter” after Gessler clashed with Denver elections officials last fall over sending mail-in ballots to all voters, not just “active voters.” A lawsuit in the Denver case is pending.
Johnston said his bill would allow people to continue getting mailed ballots even if they skip one election, which currently puts them in the “inactive voter” category.
“Voting is not a fundamental right. Voting is the fundamental right,” Johnston said.
The Senate committee approved Johnston’s bill on a party-line vote, with Democrats in favor. A spokesman for Gessler testified against the bill, saying that current policy of sending postcards to voters who skipped an election should be enough to keep voters active if they choose.
The three voting bills considered Wednesday laid bare a wide partisan split. Both Democrats and Republicans say they want to make voting easy and secure. But how to get there? That’s where the arguing begins.
– By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer
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