A Minor Voting Issue Might be Major Problem

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Scott Gessler (credit: CBS)

Scott Gessler (credit: CBS)

Written by Dominic Dezzutti

When it comes to political issues that garner serious attention from voters, policies over the distribution of mail-in ballots to inactive voters doesn’t register high on the interest-meter. So it would not surprise me if you haven’t heard much about the dust up between some County Clerks and Recorders and Secretary of State Scott Gessler.

However, it’s these seemingly mundane policies that go under the microscope when elections get close. And even though we are over four months away from Election Day, many local and national pundits believe Colorado’s swing state status will make it a tight race for President in November.

Based on that probability, what’s going on between the Clerks and Recorders and Scott Gessler deserves our attention before it possibly garners national attention.

At issue is Secretary of State Scott Gessler’s new proposed rule that would mandate all counties to not send mail-in ballots to any “inactive” voters. Inactive voters are defined are voters who did not vote in the last general election in 2010 and in any subsequent election.

Denver County Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson has been openly critical of the proposed rule, saying that the rule “would create more hurdles for voters” and went so far as to call the move “voter suppression”. Johnson eventually retracted the voter suppression line from her comments on her website, but she remains against the idea.

Gessler’s office defends the new proposed rule as a way to ensure all counties treat inactive voters the same way and says that the rule is not suppressing voters since inactive voters who do not receive a mail-in ballot are able to vote in a traditional polling place.

This may all seem like seriously inside political baseball until you remember that in 2008, then candidate Barack Obama’s campaign led a record breaking voter registration effort that registered a great deal of Democratic and Independent voters.

So, if any of those new Democratic and Independent voters, many of whom voted for Obama in 2008, didn’t vote in 2010 and 2011, then they won’t be sent a mail-in ballot.

If Scott Gessler’s policy is adopted and President Obama loses in Colorado by just a few votes, the legality of this rule and the potential partisan nature of its creation will be under an enormous national microscope.

No one knew anything about how Floridians voted before 2000. But once they essentially decided the Presidential race, everyone in the world knew about hanging chads, ballot design, and confused senior voters.

I cannot imagine any Coloradans want the rest of the country to be focused on everything about Colorado’s voting process. When the national media focuses on a state’s voting process, it is never flattering and the sting of the criticism takes a very long time to go away. The Florida debacle was twelve years ago and hanging chads are still a solid punch line.

It may seem insignificant and a bit tedious right now, but if the spat between Secretary of State Scott Gessler and the County Clerks and Recorders of Colorado does not end well, we may rue the day we didn’t pay closer attention to the problem.

We’ll regret it because of everyone else paying far too much attention to it in November.
About The Blogger

- Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti also produces the Emmy winning Colorado Inside Out, hosted by Raj Chohan, on Colorado Public Television.

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