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At the end of last week, refreshed from a few short days at home in Georgia, I hit the road again this time on a two state swing starting in Colorado and wrapping up in Missouri. In Colorado, I continued to meet with our partner organizations, meet our on-the-ground members and volunteers doing everything they can to get their communities ready for the November elections, and had the opportunity to meet with the Colorado Secretary of State.
Like his counterparts in Ohio, Florida, and Georgia, Secretary of State Scott Gessler has launched a campaign to confuse voters by implementing new and unauthorized rules and by engaging in last minute purging of voter rolls in the run up to the 2012 election. Young and clean cut, Gessler agreed to meet with me and LWV Colorado (LWVCO) representatives.
Despite his public announcement that he has abandoned his inaccurate and untimely quest to eliminate non-citizens from Colorado's voter rolls, Gessler told us that there is yet another round of checks through the Homeland Security Database SAVE that he is subjecting names of voters culled from the overall list of over 3 million registered voters. So far, Gessler has sent letters to nearly 4000 registered voters that he deems suspect based on typically obscure sources. Each of these voters was challenged to prove their citizenship or withdraw from the voter rolls. Five hundred unfortunate voters have complied, a handful have withdrawn. A slender 141 names were sent on to local election officials for further investigation and another group of over 200 are being compared to the SAVE list.
Gessler is aggressive in his approach to real or imagined voter fraud. He threatened criminal prosecution, administrative hearings and suggested that any noncitizen who did not withdraw his or her name from the roles would jeopardize any chance of becoming a naturalized citizen. Yet, the only firsthand stories he could provide were of noncitizens who had inadvertently registered through a confusing form used by the Department of Motor Vehicles or provided by a local election official. None of the 'culprits' claimed to be citizens and each had voted only because a ballot had been mailed to them.
On a brighter note, I attended a meeting of the Women's Collaborative at the University of Denver and learned about voter registration and get out the vote efforts by some of our partner organizations. I also got to meet with League members who were gathered in Denver for the LWVCO's highly popular and very successful annual League Day. Over 150 members attended, and the day was a great success! It was my honor to address the assemblage talking about the importance of voting rights. But that was far from all League members got to hear – ballot issues were explained and members were prepared to speak in their communities explaining the issues. Fracking, health care and local League initiatives were also on the agenda. Leaguers in Colorado are now armed with good information and ready to assist voters in registering, getting informed and making up their own minds on Election Day.
The Colorado Leagues are using every inch of Vote411.org and they’re seeing a positive result with the number of candidates providing information growing. The LWV of Larimer County even has bus ads promoting the site! In addition to the general election information provided on VOTE411.org, voters can also access a complete calendar of League events during this busy election season.
The most encouraging thing I’ve seen on my travels so far, is the way the League is stepping up to make sure that every eligible voter has an equal opportunity to register and vote and make our democracy work this year. In the greatest democracy in the world, the League of Women Voters is demonstrating, once again, that protecting voting rights is protecting American exceptionalism.
Stay tuned for my update from Missouri!