DENVER (AP) – Colorado’s elections chief is moving quickly to identify and eliminate any ineligible voters by using a federal immigration database – an effort that left-leaning groups warn could lead to U.S. citizens wrongly being kicked off the rolls.
Gessler, the Republican secretary of state, and Colorado’s election clerks are navigating uncharted territory in crossing out non-citizens before an Aug. 8 deadline – three months before the November general election.
“My goal really is to get something squared away in the next week or so, move expeditiously with this,” Gessler said.
Under federal law, county clerks can’t cancel voters after Aug. 8. Gessler said there might be some flexibility with the date.
Gessler said people whose voting status is questioned would get letters asking them to take action to correct any discrepancies.
It’s still unclear how clerks will use the database, known as the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements, to verify voters’ eligibility, said Pam Anderson, the Jefferson County Clerk and incoming president of the Colorado County Clerks Association.
“I would say we’re anxious to get that information because we have a deadline,” she said.
Gessler said he’s still working on agreement with federal officials on how they’ll access database information.
Last week, the Homeland Security Department said Florida can access the SAVE database to challenge registered voters suspected of being noncitizens. The database has information about immigrants in the country legally, with a green card for example, who are eligible to receive government benefits.
“It’s not a national database of citizens,” said Elena Nunez, the executive director of Common Cause, a voting rights group. “Having access to that database in and of itself doesn’t give us complete information to check our rolls.”
Under Florida’s agreement, the state can challenge voters only if officials provide a “unique identifier,” such as an “alien number,” information assigned to legal immigrants with green cards, visas or other permits. Florida won’t be able to use only names and birthdates to question a voter’s status.
On Monday, the federal government said it would expand database access to other states, including Washington and Colorado, where Gessler has long lobbied for the information. He maintains that 5,000 people are registered to vote in Colorado but may not be citizens because they presented a green card or other immigration document when they obtained a driver’s license. He said about 2,000 of those later voted.
What has been impossible to determine is whether those people eventually became citizens and where thus eligible to vote. Opponents of Gessler’s plans say there’s no widespread problem.
“There needs to be extreme caution on the part of election officials to make sure that citizens are not disenfranchised, that citizens are not removed from the rolls,” said Luis Toro, the director of Colorado Ethics Watch.
Toro said one concern is that if citizens run into issues with their registration status, there will be little time to fix the problem.
Gessler said officials are being careful, just like they are when making sure felons and the deceased are not on voter rolls.
“As long as you take a methodical approach to this, which is what we’re doing, we’re going to be fine,” Gessler said, adding that any suspicions about purging voters to influence elections “are completely unwarranted.”
– By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer
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