Colorado’s automatic voter registration could become a little more automatic

A bill would allow voters to opt out of registration after they renew or get a driver’s licenses.

Denver Elections judges run a ballot machine at the division's downtown headquarters, Oct. 31, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Denver Elections judges run a ballot machine at the division's downtown headquarters, Oct. 31, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo

Automatic voter registration in Colorado could soon expand to include anyone enrolling in Medicaid.

A bill backed by the state’s top election official would additionally update the state’s process of automatically registering people when they update or obtain a drivers license by changing the way people can decline that registration. Rather than asking people to decide at the moment they’re getting a license, they will now receive a postcard with information on how to decline or change voter information.

If a person doesn’t decline within 20 days after receiving the postcard, they’re registered to vote.

Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat, on Wednesday testified in favor of a Senate bill its sponsors believe would make registration easier. Simplifying voter registration has been a top priority for Griswold, who took office in January and whose office oversees elections.

Speaking at the Senate State, Veterans, & Military Affairs Committee, Griswold said it was a crucial piece of legislation.

“I really do believe government should meet people where they are and that’s what this program does,” Griswold said. “This legislation will also help continue Colorado’s commitment to modern and secure elections.”

The bill was introduced last week by Democratic state Sens. Jessie Danielson of Wheat Ridge and Majority Leader Steve Fenberg of Boulder. The lawmakers believe the bill will help streamline the state’s election system. The committee voted 3-2 along party lines on Wednesday to forward the bill to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“The most important thing is not just that it’s good for government efficiency, but it results in actually creating more accessible and inclusive elections where more people are participating in the electoral process,” Fenberg said.

Secretary of State Jena Griswold speaks to a reporter in her office, Jan. 30, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Secretary of State Jena Griswold speaks to a reporter in her office, Jan. 30, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Republican lawmakers in the committee raised concerns about the bill, including worries that it would essentially force people to register to vote. State Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling said he felt the bill was targeting specific groups.

Advocate Elisabeth Epps spoke in opposition of the bill, adding that automatic voter registration isn’t in the best interest of Democracy. She called the opt-out process “antithetical to an inclusive Democracy.” She wants to abolish voter registration altogether.

“When I tell you I oppose automatic registration, I want to be clear that I’m absolutely in favor of automatic eligibility and automatic access, but there’s no reason to register at all,” Epps said. She said automatic voter registration can be problematic because voting rolls “remain on the front lines of partisan attacks and cyber attacks.”

Automatic voter registration was started by Griswold’s predecessor, Wayne Williams.

Secretary of State office spokeswoman Serena Woods said the proposed bill would build upon the state’s current system and help modernize it.

“This is automated, and so the checking if someone is a citizen and if they’re eligible is done behind the scenes through database matches,” Fenberg said.

“Nobody who is not eligible because they are not a citizen will be registered to vote.”

Colorado boasts some of the highest voter turnout in the nation. During last year’s midterm elections, the state ranked second with an estimated 61.9 percent turnout among its voting-eligible population. Minnesota came in first.

In addition to good voter turnout, Colorado is one of the safest states in the country to cast a vote. This is based on its post-election audits and ballot recording process; former U.S. Department of Homeland Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen said it’s a process she would like to see nationwide during an appearance in the state last year.

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