DENVER (AP) – Democrats on a legislative committee rejected a GOP proposal Wednesday to cancel the voter registration of people in Colorado suspected of not being U.S. citizens.
The move came after Democrats cited concerns that there was no reliable data for verification of citizenship and said eligible voters could be disenfranchised.
The proposal was a follow-up to an investigation last year by Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler, who joined GOP election chiefs in other swing states in sounding alarms about the possibility of noncitizens voting in elections.
Democrats have questioned the validity of those concerns, saying there’s no widespread evidence of such fraud and accusing Republicans of trying to influence elections.
Colorado’s bill would have required election officials to check voter rolls against national and state immigration databases to verify citizenship. Election officials would then have hearings for people to show proof of citizenship or have their registration canceled.
“Every vote is an issue of fairness,” said Republican Rep. Lori Saine, who sponsored the proposal. “We don’t want to dissuade folks from voting. We want all Americans to vote.”
The proposal was defeated with a 7-3 vote in the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs committee.
In the months leading to the November election, Gessler sent letters to 3,903 registered voters who were suspected of not being U.S. citizens.
One of the people spoke against the bill at Wednesday’s hearing and described how she felt about her citizenship being questioned.
“I’m not making drama, but I really felt like someone was punching my stomach,” said Veronica Figoli, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Venezuela.
The status of those who received letters came into question because they had at one point presented a green card or other documentation that showed they weren’t citizens when they got a driver’s license.
It’s possible those people later became naturalized, so Gessler and election chiefs in states including Florida, Ohio and Iowa petitioned the federal government for access to a federal database to check citizenship status.
The database tracks who is a legal resident eligible to receive government benefits.
Only Colorado and Florida got access to the information and ran checks last year. In Colorado, officials say the status of 436 voters remained in question, and 35 had previously voted. Florida officials said 207 voters were suspected of being noncitizens after 2,600 names were checked against the federal list.
Democratic Rep. Joseph Salazar said at Wednesday’s committee meeting that evidence contradicts the theory that large numbers of noncitizens are voting in Colorado. He also questioned the reliability of the federal database and cited a government report saying it’s not error-free.
Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert acknowledged the database is not perfect.
“We admit that, but we don’t have a better option,” Staiert said.
She defended the effort by her office as a way to educate and alert people before they committed a crime by voting.
“We felt it was our obligation to let them know that this could have serious consequences for them,” she said.’
– By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer
(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)