Strong Enforcement Of Voter Protections Needed In Colorado To Stop “Bullies At The Ballot Box”

Release Date: 
September 10, 2012

As the elections approach, strong enforcement of voter protections is needed to prevent attempts to block Colorado voters from casting their ballot, according to a report released today by voting rights groups Demos and Common Cause. The study, “Bullies at the Ballot Box: Protecting the Freedom to Vote from Wrongful Challenges and Intimidation” focuses on voter protection laws in Colorado and nine other states where elections are expected to be close, or where large challenger operations are expected or have taken place during recent elections.

The study concludes that Colorado generally has satisfactory voter protections on the books, but these laws must be enforced to protect Americans from voter intimidation and improper attempts to kick registered voters off the rolls.

Just last month, Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler, in a brief speech to Colorado’s delegation to the Republican National Convention, encouraged people to work with True the Vote, a poll-watching organization that grew out of a Texas tea party group.

True the Vote and other Tea Party-affiliated groups are reportedly recruiting 1 million volunteers to object to the qualifications of voters in targeted communities on and before Election Day, according to the study. These volunteers are being rallied to block, in their own words, the “illegal alien vote” and “the food stamp army.” Their stated goal is to make the experience of voting “like driving and seeing the police behind you.”

There should be zero tolerance for bullying at the ballot box.

“We call on elections officials and law enforcement at the state and federal level to stand ready to enforce the law and aggressively protect every eligible American’s right to vote this November,” said Liz Kennedy, report co-author and Counsel at Demos. “Wrongful challenges and intimidating tactics should never stand between Americans and their right to have their voices heard on the issues that affect their lives. There should be zero tolerance for bullying at the ballot box.”

“Voting must be free, fair and accessible to all, and voters should know their rights,” said Common Cause President Bob Edgar. “It is important to maintain the integrity of our election system, and that means candidates, parties and political activists should be focused on persuading and turning out voters, not bullying them or trying to manipulate the law to freeze them out of our democracy.”

Colorado receives high marks for its laws that should protect voters from wrongful challenges to their right to vote before and on Election Day, and from intimidation by partisan poll watchers on Election Day inside and outside the polls:

  • For challenges to a voter’s eligibility made before Election Day, Colorado requires voter challenges to be made 60 days before Election Day, to be in writing, under oath, and accompanied by documentary evidence. Hearings are held at which the challenger has the burden of proving a registered voter is ineligible and should be removed from the voting rolls.
  • Voters challenged on Election Day are entitled to vote a regular ballot after signing an affidavit attesting to the voter’s eligibility to vote. Election Day challenges must be in writing under oath, and must contain the specific factual basis for the challenge.
  • Poll watchers in Colorado are prohibited from recording voters or interfering with the election process; if they do, election officials can have them removed.
  • Colorado’s anti-intimidation laws prohibit any person from directly or indirectly impeding, preventing, or otherwise interfering with the free exercise of the vote.

The ten states reviewed in “Bullies at the Ballot Box” are Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia.  In addition to assessing the current state laws, the report provides recommendations to protect citizens from large-scale, well-organized efforts to intimidate or block them from voting.

“It is important that all participants understand the rules and respect the right of all eligible Americans to vote free of intimidation or obstruction. We want to minimize the risk of positive civic engagement moving into disrupting the orderly conduct of elections,” said Liz Kennedy. “Unwarranted challenges to voters’ eligibility can lead to problems at the polls for everyone seeking to cast a ballot by depleting resources, distracting officials, and leading to longer lines. They threaten the fair administration of elections and the fundamental freedom to vote.”

“Voting is one of our most fundamental rights,” said Common Cause President Bob Edgar. “No eligible voter should be blocked from casting a ballot, and the entire voting rights community is mobilized to protect voters’ rights.”

Common Cause and Demos are part of the Election Protection coalition, the nation’s largest non-partisan voter protection coalition. Common Cause and coalition allies are recruiting and organizing non partisan Election Day monitors to help voters understand the voting rules in their state and report any and all efforts to discourage or intimidate voters.  Through the 1-866-OUR-VOTE hotline and a comprehensive field deployment, Election Protection helps voters overcome obstacles to the ballot box while collecting data for meaningful reform.  Over 100 organizations have joined forces to monitor polling places across the country and provide aid, including legal assistance, to voters who encounter obstacles to voting.

Coalition partners “are prepared to empower voters at the polls and to ensure all Americans have an equal chance to have their voices heard,” Edgar said.