Alamosa County Democratic Party Chairman Mike Garcia talks with Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler on Thursday.
Courier photo by Lauren Krizansky
Courier staff writer
ALAMOSA — Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler visited with Valley officials and citizens on Thursday afternoon on the last stop of his Voter Integrity Listening Tour launched late last year.
Through the series of public meetings, Gessler looked for feedback on the 2012 general election and recommendations for changes or improvements for future elections.
“It is important for me to get out and talk about people’s experiences and hear about what they saw and heard,” Gessler said to the small crowd gathered at the Alamosa County administration building. “My perspective, looking at the last election, is that we had a really good election. I think it is the best we have had in Colorado.”
He said there were minimal problems across the state last November based on county reports stating, “things worked smoothly.” Problems included long voting lines and minor ballot issues often developing when a voter decided to change from a mail in ballot to voting at the polls.
Overall, he said, compliance was up and complaints and fines were down.
He added that compared to other battleground states, Colorado performed above par and is in the top three states to have the majority of eligible voters participate in the election.
“We really did very, very well compared to other swing states,” Gessler said. “If there had been problems, they would have been widely publicized.”
Last year, he said, Colorado voter registration jumped up 10 percent, bringing at least 400,000 more voters to the polls than in 2008. He credited the increase to the online voter registration option that tallied at least a quarter of a million voters, an average of one out of 10, used to update their information, which contributed to the state’s 1.5 percent voter turnout upswing.
“It is huge because if you look at the nation, there was a drop off,” Gessler said. “In Colorado, we actually saw an increase. This was something unusual nationwide.”
In addition, he said the state’s military and overseas voting increased 30 percent.
After sharing the state’s 2012 election data, Gessler also addressed his concerns and solutions surrounding accurate voter rolls and election integrity.
Right now, he said, there are 10 Colorado counties with more names on the voter roll than adults eligible to vote, but not more votes than voters.
“More accurate voter rolls make for a better election,” Gessler said. “When it goes over 100 percent, we get worried.”
The source of the extra names include the deceased and people who have moved out of the state, but not made their relocation known, he said. One way Colorado and several other states are combating the problem is through consortiums constructed to share such information.
One step the state is considering to improve election efficiency is creating a unified system, which would eventually have every county operating with the same equipment.
“Our elections are pretty expensive and complex,” Gessler said. “We are moving to a standardized system. It would be cheaper and easier to use.”
Presently, the idea is under exploration with costs and a rollout date unknown, he said. Colorado is studying how other states have adapted to a uniform system and finding it has improved technology purchasing opportunities and ongoing technical support.
A word from the public
Local officials and citizens engaged Gessler in conversation, providing feedback in a number of areas. Topics of conversation included the need for more poll watchers when dealing with several precincts in one location; a voter’s ability to vote multiple times; college aged voters; the candidate’s experience; mail in ballot regulations; the ongoing Saguache County voting problems and Latino issues.
Alamosa resident and poll watcher Susan Hammer said she was concerned that out-of-state college students might be casting votes here and at home while being bribed for their support. She referenced the Adams State University (ASU) course “The Obama Campaign Internship (GOVT279 Presidential Election Internship)” that was eventually removed from the 2012 fall schedule, implying the Democratic Party encroached on campus.
“I feel a little bit bad because I graduated from Adams State,” Hammer said. “...I am very disappointed.”
In the university’s defense, ASU student trustee Meagan Smith said in the nearly five years she has been on campus, she has never been offered something in return for her vote or found any inconsistencies with election regulations.
“It was an option for both campaigns to come on campus,” Smith said about the course that attracted national attention.
Gessler responded, “You know now the levels of sensitivity. Try and memorialize the experience.”
Later in the conversation, Alamosa County Democratic Party Chairman Mike Garcia added, “This is a good issue. College kids don’t always know where to vote. It is important for the college to take an active roll.”
Alamosa County Commissioner Marianne Dunne agreed, “I really strongly believe in democracy and the rights of people to vote. I applaud the students at ASU.”
Independent 2012 Saguache County Commissioner candidate and Crestone resident Lisa Cyriacks asked the Secretary about mail in ballots and same day voter registration initiatives, and secret ballots rumors.
“I am personally not a fan and I don’t think it is a good idea,” Gessler said about same day voter registration.
In regards to an all mail in ballot system, he said it wasn’t a legislative priority right now, and secret ballots and attempts to identify votes are on the radar.
“I feel very confident that no one’s anonymity is being compromised,” Gessler said.
Center resident and activist Mike Garcia shared his 2012 election experience, informing Gessler Saguache County continues to have problems, he was denied access to photographing a polling location and, in the end, his vote didn’t count for reasons unknown. He also commented on the erroneous information he believed Latino voters received.
“I believe it is important that your office understands that we as minorities were not taken care of,” Mike stressed.
Gessler said some Latino voters became confused when incorrect information about active and inactive voting status was disseminated. He clarified that an inactive voting status only means a voter doesn’t automatically receive a ballot.
“The harm was people going out and telling people they couldn’t vote,” Gessler said. “I think that might have suppressed voter turnout.”
Although the public expressed their concerns, one was not Alamosa County Clerk and Recorder Melanie Woodward and her staff’s abilities.
“In the almost 21 years I have been living in Alamosa, I have always had the best service in the world,” said Ted McNeilsmith, a former ASU professor. “Melanie and her office do an excellent job. I think you are doing an excellent job as well.”
Garcia added, “One of the things that would really help you (Gessler) is to listen to your county clerks. In my opinion, they know what is going on. I’ve never felt misguided or mislead in any way.”