DENVER (AP) – An overhaul of Colorado’s election rules, including allowing same-day voter registration and mail-in ballots for all registered voters, got initial approval Monday after partisan bickering in what’s one of the most closely watched bills in the final weeks of the session.
Dozens of people went to the Capitol during a massive snowstorm to testify on the proposal during its first committee, underscoring the attention that the bill is getting.
“This is exceptional legislation that will bring our elections into the 21st century,” said Democratic Rep. Dan Pabon, one of the bill sponsors.
The bill got its first OK on a 7-4 party-line vote in a committee controlled by Democrats.
Republicans have raised concerns that the proposed changes increase the possibility of voter fraud, but Democrats argue there’s no evidence to back that up.
Under the bill, voter registration would be allowed on Election Day, and every registered voter in Colorado would get a ballot in the mail.
But individuals would decide for themselves how to vote. They could mail back their ballots or vote in person
Oregon and Washington mail ballots to every eligible voter, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The bill would also eliminate the “inactive” voter designation, which currently applies to voters who skip even one election and restricts their ability to get ballots by mail.
“It will be good for Colorado’s democracy,” Pabon said about the bill.
But Republicans have criticized Democrats who wrote the bill, saying GOP leaders were left out of the process.
“This is a flawed bill. This is an example of bad government,” said Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler, Colorado’s elections chief, who has frequently sparred with Democrats over a variety of issues.
“Frankly, the people who wrote it, who were behind this, wrote it in secret. They froze out any voice that disagreed with them,” Gessler said.
Democrats have disputed Gessler’s claim. Pabon said county clerks, including Republicans, approached all lawmakers late last year to talk about changing election rules.
Democrats also maintain that the goal of the bill is to increase voter participation, regardless of party.
About 74 percent of Colorado voters cast a mail ballot in November, according to a letter to lawmakers from the state’s bipartisan County Clerks Association, which supports the proposed election changes. In the letter late last year, clerks called that figure “a clear mandate from the electorate.”
The letter also said the label of inactive voters should be addressed.
Clerks also wanted to allow more time for people to register to vote and clear up confusion about different deadlines, but they did not specifically call for same-day voter registration.
More than a dozen states have considered bills this year to allow same-day voter registration, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School.
The full House still needs to consider the bill.
– By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer
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