In your Friday news dump yesterday, this brief AP story:
Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler is investigating 85 people who may have been illegally registered to vote.
A spokesman for Gessler says jail records are being checked for people being detained as illegal immigrants to see if they match names in the state’s voter database.
Which points back to yesterday’s Denver paper, where reporter Sara Burnett covers a “spot check” done by Secretary of State Scott Gessler’s office into the possibility of noncitizens being registered to vote. In his latest attempt to uncover what he insists in the absence of much evidence is a major problem, Gessler’s office checked immigration detainees in Colorado with voter rolls, and found 85 persons who appear both in that list and a list of registered voters. Of that 85, some 29 are marked as “active” voters, meaning they appear to have voted since 2010.
We haven’t heard anything yet about the matching methodology used by Gessler’s office to match these names; the precision (or lack thereof) could potentially validate or severely undermine Gessler’s contention right there. As quoted in the Denver paper, voting rights groups like Mi Familia Vota and Common Cause aren’t taking issue with the specific assertion that 29 people may have voted illegally, but pointing out the “bad use of resources” given the small number relative to millions of votes cast in any general election. 29 votes out of 1.6 million cast in 2010 would be well below the rate of many other kinds of election errors that benignly occur.
This is taking place as Gessler, with help from fellow Republican Attorney General John Suthers, press the Department of Homeland Security for access to immigration records on some 5,000 voters Gessler finds questionable based on the fact that they may have presented noncitizen documents when they received their driver’s license. Many of you will recall the fight Gessler waged unsuccessfully in the legislature and the media in 2011, when opponents noted that “possible noncitizen registered voters” he introduced as evidence then could be fully accounted for by the number of Colorado residents who became U.S. citizens afterwards.
Our view: Democrats need to be careful about pooh-poohing the significance of any number of potentially illegal voters–not because the small number isn’t a valid point, it honestly is. But the rhetorical counter from Gessler, that his job is to ensure the integrity of voter rolls, and that even one illegal voter dilutes everyone else’s vote, will have purchase with a lot of voters.
Democrats need to talk about this in terms of effort expended versus the potential gain–and what that says about Gessler’s real motives. Despite the ambitious timeline given to the Department of Homeland Security, there’s an honest question whether his office could complete the process of checking these registrations before the deadline next month protecting voter registrations from cancelation under federal law. Errors in that process could result in valid voter registrations being canceled with little time to remedy the situation.
Bottom line: it’s not that 29 maybe-illegal voters should be dismissed out of hand as irrelevant, or whatever likely very small percentage of the 5,000 voters Gessler wants to scrutinize might turn out to be faulty. But put in perspective with both the total number of votes cast in any election, and all the other ways ballots are miscast, misplaced, or miscounted in an election, it becomes a question of justifying the effort expended. And given the “mistakes” Gessler could make against perfectly legal voters right before an election, a question of justifiable harm.