In September, we told you about Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler’s attempt to prevent thousands of duly registered Colorado citizens from voting in this November’s mail ballot election merely because they failed to vote in a single election. Fortunately, county clerk and recorders in Denver and Pueblo Counties took a principled stand against Secretary Gessler’s wrongheaded approach, and Denver won the right to send mail ballots to all duly registered voters. Other counties followed suit.
The reports of early returns are in, and the result is a huge win for voters and a decisive blow against Secretary Gessler’s policy of disenfranchisement. Media reports indicate that as of Monday night, in Pueblo County, an astonishing 16 percent of the County’s approximately 17,000 “inactive voters” had cast ballots: a total of roughly 2,700 voters. This represented nearly 9 percent of all votes cast in Pueblo County. In Pueblo’s District Two, an area with a disproportionately high number of low-income citizens, inactive voters constituted 23 percent of the total voting electorate. The statewide results, when available, will likely show that thousands more inactive voters cast mail ballots.
Had Secretary Gessler’s attempt been successful, none of these duly registered voters would have been allowed to participate in the election by voting mail ballots. And indeed, due in part to Secretary Gessler’s efforts, thousands of registered voters in other counties that did not send mail ballots to inactive voters likely were disenfranchised on Tuesday.
The dispute over inactive voters is not over. With the 2012 election looming, Secretary Gessler has indicated that he will continue to press for restrictive voting laws that would prevent registered voters who miss a single election from participating in elections unless they first submit to an administrative process to “reactivate” their status. The 2011 election turnout, welcome as it is for the citizens of Colorado, also places in sharp relief the stakes of the ongoing war on voting. Hopefully, these election results will show Secretary Gessler the folly of his policy. Either way, those fighting for free and open elections must remain vigilant.