New report finds some Colorado voting practices improved, but state still lagging in certain areas

    Media Contact
  • Dale Eisman

Mary Boyle, Common Cause, (202) 736-5770

Tim Rusch, Demos, (212) 389-1407

Insufficient Spanish outreach and laws to prevent vote suppression, problems with MOVE Act compliance cited as excessive hurdles to voting

DENVER, Colo. – A new report finds that while Colorado has improved some voter registration practices — making it easier, not harder, for eligible voters to vote — state election laws and policies still present barriers to full voter participation. Particularly vexing is the state’s failure to conduct outreach in Spanish, despite its large Spanish-speaking population.

The report, “Voting in 2010: Ten Swing States,” examines Colorado election laws and policies and highlights the impact they could have on voter participation in the upcoming mid-term elections. Because Colorado is the site of several close federal and state races, voter participation rates could have a game-changing impact on election results. The report was produced by national policy centers and election watchdogs Common Cause and Demos. The report also reviews voting laws and policies in Arizona, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio.

“Often as a result of pressure from voting rights advocates, Colorado election procedures have gotten better over the past few years, but there are still concerns,” said Tova Wang, Senior Democracy Fellow at Demos and author of the report. “It is not entirely clear as of now how the state will ensure overseas and military voters can effectively cast a ballot, and given the large Latino population in the state, much more needs to be done to ensure compliance with federal language translation requirements and outreach to these communities.”

“When the stakes are this high, election rules can make all the difference. We must focus our efforts to ensure that all eligible voters can cast their ballot and have it counted,” said Jenny Flanagan, director of Colorado Common Cause. “Our report highlights where Colorado is doing well and where we must do better. Even modest reforms such as provided voting instructions in Spanish, can go a long way towards empowering voters.”

The report examines potential problem areas including registration, ID issues –which can present burdens to those who don’t hold traditional identification such as a driver’s license — provisional ballots, voter suppression and deception tactics, caging and challenge laws, voting by overseas and military voters, and challenges for new citizens and ethnic minorities. A summary chart evaluates each state’s practices, and a set of recommendations is offered for improvement of these voting procedures.

A number of notable obstacles to full voter participation in Colorado were found.

Citizens must register a full 29 days before the election, long before many voters become aware that an election is upcoming.

Election officials conduct no formal outreach for immigrant or language minority voters, though the state has more than 150,000 immigrant citizens and at least 404,000 eligible Latino voters. The state’s Elections homepage does not offer Spanish translation and only precincts composed of three percent or more non-English speaking eligible voters are required to recruit bilingual staff members.

Colorado lacks any law directly banning dissemination of deceptive information, leaving the state open to the use of phony flyers as well as online dissemination of misinformation meant to disenfranchise voters.

Voting rights are restored automatically to felons released from parole but that information is not effectively conveyed to voters. In fact, the state’s website says “no one will tell you when you are eligible to vote.”

Voting may be more difficult for Coloradans in the military and overseas than it is for their counterparts from other states. Colorado applied for but was denied a waiver of the recently passed federal requirement that absentee ballots be sent out 45 days in advance to overseas voters who have requested them prior to that time; the waiver was denied.

On the positive side, the report found some exemplary voting laws and procedures which other states would do well to emulate.

In some states, if a voter’s name as listed in the voter registration database does not exactly match data on the voter’s ID, such as a driver’s license, that voter can be flagged or purged from the voter list. However, in Colorado when voters’ names in the statewide voter database do not exactly match data in other databases, and minor errors occur or nicknames are used, officials are authorized to use good judgment and keep the voter registered.

When voters are given a provisional ballot because they did not appear at the polls with the proper ID, local election officials must take pro-active steps to verify their eligibility through approved databases or direct follow-up with the voter. Voters need not return to the county clerks office with documentation as is required by other states.

If a voter casts a ballot in the wrong precinct but within his/her county of residence, the ballot may be counted for the races (state and federal) where he or she is eligible. In a number of other states, that ballot will simply not be counted.

Click here for the full report, executive summary and other swing state information.