Voter citizenship checks yield few responses
DENVER — The latest round of letters questioning the citizenship of some Colorado registered voters has 63 out of 298 people affirming their right to vote, and most recipients are ignoring the May letters altogether.
The letters are part of an ongoing effort by Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler to address what he says is a risk for voter fraud. Gessler’s office provided the latest numbers to The Associated Press this week. Another 15 people who received letters last month said they weren’t U.S. citizens and asked to be removed from voter rolls.
Gessler has defended his effort amid criticism from Democrats who question whether the issue of noncitizens on voter rolls is a systemic problem.
“Colorado election officials are required by law to ensure only eligible voters are participating,” said Gessler spokesman Rich Coolidge. “Our best line of defense is to coordinate and verify using public databases like we do now.”
Rep. Dickie Lee Hullinghorst, the Democratic House leader, said she’s not impressed by the most recent figures.
“It is a bit of an exercise in futility in my opinion,” she said.
Gessler is conducting the checks using driver’s license records and the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements, a federal database that tracks who is a legal resident eligible to receive government benefits. The database was not designed to conduct voter citizenship checks, and critics say it’s not error-free. But Gessler’s office said it’s the best they have at their disposal.
Gessler can’t take action on the registrations of people who don’t respond to the letters or compel them to answer. Democratic lawmakers rejected a bill this year that would’ve put a process in place enabling Gessler and future secretaries to take action.
Last August, Gessler sent 3,903 letters to suspected noncitizens, causing alarm from voter rights groups who argued the initiative risked disenfranchising eligible voters in a swing state crucial to the presidential election. Some of those letters went to voters who insisted they were citizens. Florida also conducted checks using the SAVE federal database.
— The Associated Press
The letters from last month bring the tally of letters sent since last year to 4,201. Coolidge said Gessler’s office is waiting for responses from 486 who are not U.S. citizens, according to the federal database.
“I think it is a bit of a waste of time,” Hullinghorst said. “Clearly he’s not getting results.”
Gessler’s office could not immediately provide an estimate of how much it has cost to run the checks and send the letters. Coolidge said the costs are “part of our normal course of duties to ensure clean and accurate voter rolls.”
“All we can do is estimate time spent and that is not an easy task,” he said.
Coolidge said a couple of the 15 people who acknowledged they weren’t citizens had voted in the past. One voted in last year’s election and another voted three previous times, he said. No charges have been filed, but Coolidge said officials planned to send their names to local district attorneys.
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