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Purged Colorado Voters Win Unprecedented Protections to Ensure Votes Are Counted

An agreement reached late yesterday before a federal judge in Colorado ensures that tens of thousands of Colorado voters illegally purged from the registration lists will have their votes counted.

October 30, 2008

Tim Bradley, Brennan Center for Justice, 646–452–5637 or 314–440–9936
Sabrina Williams Advancement Project, 202–728–9557 or 305–904–3960
Jenny Flanagan, Colorado Common Cause, 303–292–2163 or 303–842–1515

Upwards of 27,000 Could Be Saved

DENVER – An agreement reached late yesterday before a federal judge in Colorado ensures that tens of thousands of Colorado voters illegally purged from the registration lists will have their votes counted. The decision was hailed by voting rights and good-government groups in Colorado and nationwide as a victory for voters and a clear message to election officials must take the necessary steps to make sure that ballots cast by eligible voters must be counted.

“This is a major victory for voters. All eligible Colorado voters who followed the rules should have confidence that on November 4th they will be able to vote and their vote will be counted,” said Ben Monterroso, national director of Mi Familia Vota.

Under the settlement between plaintiffs—Mi Familia Vota, Colorado Common Cause and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU)—and the defendant, the Colorado Secretary of State, every wrongfully purged Colorado voter in question will be placed on a protection list that assumes their eligibility and guarantees that in the event they are given a provisional ballot on Election Day, county election officials will promptly verify their eligibility.

Any ballots of the purged voters contested at the county level—rather than be discarded and not counted as often happens with provisional ballots—will have to be reviewed by the Colorado Secretary of State as well as advocates for the purged voters in order to make sure all eligible votes are counted. If the Secretary elects to reject the ballot, representatives of the plaintiffs will also have the opportunity to review the registration and contest any rejections of wrongfully purged voters. Additionally, the court will retain continuing jurisdiction over the tens of thousands of voters wrongfully purged—which allows plaintiffs to go directly to the judge to swiftly resolve any disputes and guarantee votes are properly counted.

This stipulation means that the purged Colorado voters in question will get at least three layers of protections—by the county, state, plaintiffs’ representatives and, if needed, a federal judge—an unprecedented degree of oversight to ensure that all eligible votes are counted.

“This settlement provides unprecedented protections to the voters of Colorado and ensures that the ballots of voters who were erroneously purged will be accurately counted,” said Penda Hair of the Advancement Project.

“This is a real victory for all of us and particularly the wrongfully purged voters in Colorado. Most of these voters had no idea they’d been barred from the voting booth. Today, we all have assurance that their votes will count. It is a sweet and just victory,” said Jim Johnson, Chair of the Board of the Brennan Center for Justice and partner at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP.

“This is a good outcome for Colorado voters and we are please that the Secretary of State worked with us to achieve this resolution. Going forward, the state must work to do better for its voters,” said Myrna Perez, Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice.

Plaintiffs also noted on Thursday that the extraordinary relief granted to Colorado voters just six days before the election is only a first step to improving Colorado’s purge practices. After the election, plaintiffs will continue to work to change Colorado’s procedures to improve protections for all voters.

To read the stipulation agreed to before Judge U.S. District Judge John Kane, click here.

To arrange an interview with one of the experts involved in issuing the complaint, please contact any of the individuals listed above.


The complaint was filed on behalf of Colorado Common Cause, Mi Familia Vota, and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) contending that, in an action not required by any Colorado law, the Secretary of State has removed tens of thousands of voters from the official voter rolls. The move was a violation of the NVRA, which bans systematic removal of voters from the rolls within 90 days of a federal election except for narrowly specified reasons. Civic groups brought substantial evidence that during the NVRA’s 90 day no-purge period, defendant Secretary of State actually removed approximately 30,000 voters’ registration records from Colorado’s voting rolls, in addition to the 1,892 whose removal may have been permitted under the NVRA because of death, incarceration for a felony, or withdrawal.

Several thousand eligible voters have also been removed from the voter registration list due to a Colorado law that requires cancellation of new registrations when a non-forwardable notice sent by mail to the voter is returned as undeliverable within 20 days of receipt of the registration application. A similar law in Michigan was recently found by the US District Court to violate the NVRA and unenforceable.

The plaintiffs were represented by the Advancement Project; Brennan Center for Justice; Debevoise & Plimpton, LLC; Altshuler Berzon, LLP; Fair Elections Legal Network; and

Richardson Rosenblatt & Associates, LLC.

All of the parties to the complaint urge voters to “know before they go” to the polls and to vote early if possible to ensure that any problems are flagged early and to reduce pressure on polling places on Election Day. Voters can check their registration, find out where to vote, or report a problem by going to or by calling 866-OUR-VOTE.