Secretary of State Mike Coffman
Colorado Department of State
Denver, CO 80290
Dear Secretary Coffman:
I am certain that you share my view that the opportunity to vote in our elections is a fundamental right that, as public officials, we must make every effort to protect. I believe that you also share my commitment to ensuring that all Coloradans who are qualified and wish to exercise this right have every opportunity to do so in November's election. The purpose of this letter is to urge you to take more aggressive steps to correct an error made by your office regarding the deadline for remedying an incomplete voter registration application. A letter prepared by your office and mailed by a number of county clerks incorrectly told over 4,000 registrants with incomplete applications that any deficiencies had to be rectified by October 6, 2008. As you know, under state statute and your own rules, these registrants may correct or supplement their applications at anytime prior to voting. See C.R.S. 1-2-509(3); Election Rule 2.6.3. Your dissemination of inaccurate information may disenfranchise hundreds or thousands of Coloradans, an outcome that is unacceptable.
Since Monday my Office has been contacted directly by scores of constituents who are concerned that they and others who thought they registered to vote will be disenfranchised come election day. Members of my staff have been in contact with members of your staff, and I am aware that your office learned last Friday that your initial instruction to county clerks was inaccurate. Further, I understand that your office is preparing a letter to go to the applicants who were provided inaccurate information, but that this letter will not be completed until Friday of this week at the earliest. or as late as next week. In my view this letter alone is too little, too late. I urge you, as the chief election official in this State, to direct all county election officials to make personal contact by telephone with each potential voter who may have been misled or confused by the earlier communications. I urge you to direct county election officials to include these people on the polling books statewide and to provide these individuals with the opportunity to remedy this technical deficiency at the polls on election day. Finally, I urge you to contact media outlets statewide to ensure that corrected information is communicated as broadly as possible. In short, please ensure that these individuals are notified that they will be afforded every opportunity to remedy any deficiencies in their applications with minimal burden through election day.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time this season that county election officials have issued erroneous communications that have the potential to disenfranchise qualified voters. Last month, EI Paso County Clerk and Recorder Bob Balink publicly acknowledged that he had misinterpreted Colorado law when he sent an erroneous message to Colorado College indicating that students whose parents live in another state and claim them as dependents for tax purposes are not eligible to register to vote in Colorado. Even after correcting his error, Mr. Balink posted on his office's website a caution to college students warning them of potential negative ramifications of registering to vote in Colorado. These actions were, in the first case, wrong and in the other, beyond the scope of his duties as Clerk. His actions are unacceptable and should be carefully scrutinized by your office.
It is critical that public officials charged with carrying out the law provide the public with accurate information. It is all the more critical when, as here, the wrong information has the impact of discouraging citizens from exercising a fundamental right. Providing the wrong information is inexcusable for many reasons: it disenfranchises voters; it makes citizens skeptical (especially when the chief election official is on the ballot); and it exposes the State to litigation risk. But most importantly, it risks impacting the outcome of the election.
Our focus as public officials should be on ensuring that every qualified elector in this State is able to exercise his or her right to vote in the upcoming election. This includes encouraging the use of mail-in ballots, as well as expanding access to early voting opportunities. To that end, I ask that you join me in requesting that every county across our State open its polls on weekends during the early voting period, as feasible. Providing additional access to early voting opportunities across the State, at times most convenient for the working men and women of Colorado, is all the more critical in this year's election when we can expect record turnout and a longer than usual ballot. In addition, I ask that you join me in requesting that those voters who have the flexibility in their schedules to permit them to vote between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. on election day, when lines will be shortest, do so. It is steps like these that will help ensure that all Coloradans who are registered and wish to vote will be able to exercise this fundamental right.
Thank you for your prompt attention to these issues.
Bill Ritter, Jr.