DENVER (AP) – The names of 155 suspected noncitizens who have cast ballots in Colorado elections are being sent to prosecutors, Secretary of State Scott Gessler said Monday, continuing a contentious debate between Gessler and critics who question the validity of his findings.
The voters are among 4,201 people who have received letters from Gessler, the state’s elections chief, asking them to clarify their status since last summer in the lead-up to the 2012 contests. The 155 have voted in one or more past elections, and did not reply to the letters, Gessler’s office said.
Gessler said he had “no choice but to refer these cases to law enforcement for investigation and prosecution.”
Letters were sent to people who once showed proof of non-citizenship, such as a green card, when getting a driver’s license and then later appeared on voter rolls. Gessler is also using a federal immigration database known as the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements. While it tracks who is a legal resident eligible to receive government benefits, the database was not designed to conduct voter citizenship checks, and critics say it’s not error-free.
For example, someone who showed a green card for a driver’s license could’ve obtained citizenship soon after and it may not be reflected in the federal database, also known as SAVE. It’s also possible that some of the 155 are U.S. citizens, but simply did not respond to letters.
After Gessler sent the first batch of letters in August, some of the recipients maintained that they were U.S. citizens but refused to respond to Gessler’s query.
“I think our biggest concern is there doesn’t seem to be independent verification that these folks are not citizens,” said Denise Maes, the public policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Colorado. “I really think it’s sloppy. It’s sloppy and it’s lazy.”
Maes said Gessler should work with county clerks who already have a system to verify the legal status of a voter before referring them to prosecutors. She said the ACLU will provide legal assistance for the voters in question who request it.
Arapahoe and Denver counties had the most voters whose citizenship is being questioned. Arapahoe had 26, and Denver 20. El Paso County was next with 12.
Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler said his investigators are looking into the cases, but that it’s still early in the process. He said that it’s important to look at voting integrity, but noted that having someone make a mistake is a “far cry” from someone purposely committing fraud. He said his office will try to find the most just outcome for the cases.
A spokeswoman for the Denver district attorney did not immediately respond to an email and call asking for comment.
Rich Coolidge, a Gessler spokesman, said district attorneys have access to another database that elections officials don’t, and that it could help verify the citizenship status of individuals. Coolidge said the names of the voters are “officially part of an investigation and not subject” to Colorado open records law.
“We can no longer turn a blind eye to this vulnerability in our election system,” Gessler said.
– By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer
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