Improving the Voting Process for Coloradans
For years we have heard from disappointed and angry eligible voters who couldn’t vote as a result of confusing and antiquated systems. And for years we have been working to lower these barriers to voting. Today, we have come so close to making the voting process in Colorado one we can be proud of in the 21st century. The Colorado Voter Access & Modernized Elections Act (HB13-1303) has successfully made it through the Colorado General Assembly and is headed for the Governor’s desk.
Since 2004, Common Cause has led a coalition of nonpartisan organizations known as Just Vote! Colorado Election Protection. The goal of the program is to ensure that every eligible voter who wants to vote is able to do so, and that every vote is counted accurately. To achieve this goal, the Just Vote coalition has placed nonpartisan poll monitors at polling locations in counties around the state, and has engaged in voter education, staffed a nonpartisan call center to answer voter questions and has developed a website that provides information to voters on their rights, where to vote and other issues.
Through this work, Common Cause has talked to thousands of voters about the challenges they have faced in casting their ballots. During the 2012 election, we answered more than 4000 calls from voters of all political affiliations. Challenges to voting aren’t a partisan issue—and the solutions aren’t either.
Here’s what we learned:
First, voting by mail, while increasingly popular, is increasingly confusing to voters. Some elections are conducted by mail and others are not, so voters receive a ballot for one election but not the next. This confusion was compounded by the Inactive-Failed to Vote status and the fact that this status resulted in removal from the permanent mail ballot list. In 2012, nearly 40% of the calls and emails we received were from voters confused about the receipt or non-receipt of a mail ballot.
Second, significant registration problems as a result of registration deadlines, the need for registration updates for voters who moved and unintended clerical errors on the part of election officials prevented eligible voters from voting in 2012. What is most notable about this item is that many of the problems we saw in 2012, we also saw in 2010, 2008, 2006 and 2004. Many of these problems arose because voters had moved and, while they had filed a change of address for their mail, they had not updated their voter registration record.
House Bill 1303 is directly responsive to the problems Colorado voters face every election.
House Bill 1303 will modernize elections in Colorado. The legislation has been negotiated and shaped out of a bi-partisan effort with county clerks who are committed to developing and implementing policies that are voter friendly and reflect sound election administration. This law will remove significant barriers to participation in the electoral process by making both voting and voter registration more convenient and accessible for eligible Colorado voters.
First, by expanding voter registration, HB 1303 will make it easier for all voters who are eligible to vote to do so. In this way, no one will be disenfranchised as a result of an arbitrary deadline. The bill requires that all counties have a real time connection with the SCORE database and the death and felon records in Colorado in order to ensure access so that no voter votes more than once, and that all new applications are checked against current information that affects eligibility. This is an important safeguard for election and voter integrity.
Under the Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act, every eligible voter can visit a polling center to register or update an existing registration with a new address – and then be given a regular ballot. HB1303 simplifies Colorado’s confusing emergency registration provisions and ensures that voters, once entered onto the state rolls, stay registered so long as they continue to live in Colorado, and can make sure that once they’re a registered voter, they can move within the state and be confident they can always cast a ballot that counts.
In addition, the use of National Change Of Address (NCOA) data to update addresses of voters will eliminate the most common voter problem – where to vote after a move.
Second, by mailing a ballot to every eligible voter in Colorado, we will eliminate the confusion about when and whether someone is going to get a mail ballot. We have seen the popularity of mail ballots in Colorado – more than 70% of the state votes by mail. As a result, Colorado already has trustworthy election processes in place to verify signatures and ensure integrity in mail ballot elections. These processes have been refined over the years and are functioning well. Voters who prefer to vote in person or want to drop their ballots off rather than mail them back will be able to do so.
Finally, the bill will eliminate the confusion surrounding Inactive- Failed to Vote voters and will ensure that they receive mail ballots in every election. Only voters whose mail is returned as undeliverable will be treated as Inactive. This will bring Colorado in line with the rest of the country in terms of how voters are treated if they miss one general election.
HB1303 will give Colorado citizens greater opportunity to participate in our elections by simplifying the process while maintaining full options for registration and voting.