Jimmy’s Denver Gazette Column | Why let feds meddle in Colorado’s election laws?
Written by Jimmy at the Crossroads on March 19, 2021
In 2013, Colorado became the third state to implement statewide vote-by-mail – meaning we’ve had extensive experience leading the nation when it comes to mail-ballot elections. Since then, Colorado has improved and enhanced our system, learning from mistakes and generating more best-practices. On a few occasions (such as SB17-305 and HB19-1278), we’ve made significant reforms that largely bolstered guardrails and boosted election integrity.
The improvements since 2013 aren’t the only proof that it takes a long time to develop and hone vote-by-mail elections. It took over a decade for Colorado to become sufficiently prepared for the transition: Before HB13-1303 became law, seven in 10 voters were already signed up for no-excuse absentee voting.
The time it’s taken to tinker and to improve – let alone Colorado’s willingness and ability to better our system in the first place – is the only way to get to the point where most people tout Colorado’s elections. Bipartisan praise ranges from a Trump DHS secretary to The Washington Post and beyond. Notably, it includes all four Colorado Democrats in the U.S. House – Diana DeGette, Joe Neguse, Jason Crow and Ed Perlmutter – and Secretary of State Jena Griswold, who regularly advertises Colorado as “the gold standard” for elections.
It is curious, then, why all five voted for U.S. House Resolution 1 (HR1) or, in the case of Griswold, fully endorses it. A sweeping nationwide election bill unlike any other in history, HR1 passed the House earlier this month with all but one Democrat and no Republicans. The legislation threatens to undermine Coloradans’ faith in our elections.
HR1 addresses three main parts: voting, campaign finance and ethics. The voting piece alone is massive, literally imposing a one-size-fits-all system for how elections are run across the country, micromanaging everything from voter registration and early voting to vote-by-mail and election deadlines. While most of the election provisions seem to codify many existing Colorado policies into federal law, there are several notable and problematic differences.
For example, HR1 forbids states from mandating voter identification to verify voter eligibility, instead requiring an alternative whereby an applicant merely signs a statement affirming their identity. While Colorado doesn’t require a photo I.D., voters must provide one of 19 different forms of identification.
HR1 also prohibits states from restricting the number of ballots a single individual can turn in. Colorado law enables voters to designate another individual to return their ballot, but no one person may hand in more than ten ballots per election. While the law as it stands is virtually unenforceable, the restriction is important because it discourages campaign staffers, political consultants or other third-party groups from trafficking numerous ballots geared toward advantaging one candidate and perhaps excluding voters who don’t favor their chosen candidate.
Additionally, HR1 requires states to accept any ballot received within 10 days after an election if “it is postmarked, signed or otherwise indicates by USPS that it was mailed on or before election day.” Under Colorado statute, election officials must receive ballots by 7 p.m. on Election Day to be counted.
No matter who runs USPS, the Post Office doesn’t do business well enough to postmark every ballot. USPS can mail-track barcodes, but that’s not 100% reliable. A deadline discourages fraud and ensures smoothness of processes, certainty in voter rules and dependability for tracking purposes. Already Colorado voters can receive their ballot three weeks before Election Day or request a ballot in person in the clerk’s office up to 43 days before. In truth, this is a solution in search of a problem. It would also force our auditing and certification deadlines to be moved up, delaying results for eager voters.
Moreover, roughly two thirds of Colorado voters use ballot drop boxes, which must meet rigorous security standards under state law. Colorado’s system was built around drop boxes because they are more reliable than USPS and one of the most secure ways for Coloradans to cast a ballot. A 10-day grace period of sorts would diminish the incentive for voters to use secure drop boxes and encourage tardy vote-by-mail.
But there is an even graver consequence than the handful of election law changes forced upon Colorado. Alarmingly, we would lose the flexibility that has empowered the legislature to tinker with minor details and remedy major issues.
There will never be a perfect election system. That’s why Colorado has made improvements over the years. We still have more to do, including tightening voter ID requirements, bolstering enforcement against ballot harvesting, implementing a signature verification audit and other steps. Yet if HR1 becomes law, we won’t be able to make those enhancements.
Instead, Congress will tie Colorado’s hands, limit our ability to strengthen election integrity and force a rigid, one-size-fits-all approach upon us. In short, HR1 will eradicate Colorado’s ability to stay atop other states as “the gold standard.” Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper ought to keep this in mind when it comes time for a Senate vote.