As the story unfolded of Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler’s latest attempt to uncover what he has consistently claimed are “thousands” of illegally registered noncitizen voters on the state’s rolls–just the latest iteration of a quest that has dominated Gessler’s agenda for over a year and a half now–we’ve been very careful to not characterize what he was doing as a “major threat” to Colorado’s elections. We’ve warned Democrats to be careful not to make sweeping statements about Gessler’s actions, and to wait for the results before passing judgment.
And as it turns out, we were right. If it was ever his goal, Gessler surely hasn’t succeeded in effectively suppressing the vote, or even the secondary goal of frightening conservative voters out of complacence by presenting evidence of a threat to election integrity.
Gessler hasn’t succeeded at any of those alleged objectives. What he has done is make a colossal fool of himself, proving that all these months of fixation on rooting out “illegal voters” has been a waste of time–while helping solidify opposition from Hispanic voters against the GOP ahead of a critical presidential election. AP’s Ivan Moreno via the Huffington Post:
Sixteen of nearly 4,000 Colorado registered voters who received letters questioning their citizenship have voluntarily withdrawn from voting rolls, state election officials said Thursday.
The figures released by Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler drew criticism that the small number casts further doubt on the merits of Gessler’s investigation and contention that non-citizens are on voter lists and casting ballots…
His office also said 177 of 1,400 names checked through a federal immigration database are pending verification of citizenship. Election officials want to hold hearings to challenge those whose citizenship is still in doubt.
Gessler’s office said that means one out of eight is “trending as non-citizens.”
The statement brought a sharp rebuke from Mark Grueskin, an attorney who represents Democrats on election issues.
“That’s a ridiculous statement. You either are or you aren’t a citizen. You can’t trend that way,” Grueskin said. “More importantly, the secretary still can’t say how many, if any, non-citizens actually voted in Colorado elections. He has a choice: Come up with facts he can defend in court, or end this suspicion-laden inquiry.” [Pols emphasis]
First of all, there is absolutely no question that the lack of results from this latest action, coming after years of Gessler spreading suspicions of a major problem without hard evidence, marks a catastrophic loss of credibility for the most openly partisan Secretary of State in Colorado history. To have only sixteen noncitizens* voluntarily remove themselves from the rolls in response to nearly 4,000 letters, none of whom as of this writing are alleged to have actually voted, is an unjustifiably tiny result relative to the huge controversy of challenging all of these voters.
Gessler’s checks against the Homeland Security immigrant registration database revealed that, as we have argued from the beginning, the overwhelming majority of those checked had indeed become citizens during the intervening period–just as thousands of Colorado residents become citizens each year. This database required more data than Gessler had in many cases, so only about 1,400 were checked against it. But the results clearly indicate that that nearly all of these 4,000 letters challenging citizenship were sent to perfectly legal U.S. citizens and rightly registered voters. Even worse, Gessler could have eliminated many of these challenge letters before they were ever sent, simply by waiting to get access to this federal database.
Instead, Gessler forged ahead with his dragnet letters. And instead of uncovering an actual threat to election integrity, for thousands of new U.S. citizens, he became the threat. The damaging media coverage that Gessler’s actions have received has energized and mobilized far more Democratic voters–Hispanic and otherwise–than this was ever worth to Republicans in terms of either base messaging or actual vote suppression. As we have consistently believed would be the case, after all these months of agitation and scare tactics, Gessler has uncovered a “problem” much smaller than so many other factors that routinely and uncontroversially affect election results. A tiny fraction, just as one example, of the thousands of ballots Gessler himself unsuccessfully tried to stop from going out to legal, registered “inactive failed to vote” voters.
If there is an enemy of free and fair elections in Colorado, Gessler has met it. And it is himself.
Fortunately, he doesn’t appear to be very good at it.