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|October 16-22, 2008
• Know your rights
• Tips for voting
Your right to vote
Truth, lies and conspiracy theories — what you need to know before you cast your ballot
by Pamela White
A Republican county clerk sends incorrect voter information to a college, information that could discourage students — mostly registered Democrats — from voting in Colorado. National and local voters’ rights activists place Colorado among states to watch for the upcoming presidential election, making a host of allegations against several Colorado counties, including Boulder County. Truthout.org publishes an interview with Robert F. Kennedy Jr., in which he alleges that one quarter of registered voters in Colorado have been purged from voter rolls. The New York Times follows up with a story in which they claim that large numbers of Colorado voters have been dropped from the voter rolls, some of them within 90 days of the election, a violation of law. An e-mail circulates among Barack Obama supporters across the nation, claiming that anyone who shows up at the polls wearing Obama paraphernalia will be sent home and lose his or her right to vote.
There was a time when white Americans believed their election process to be the envy of the world, a process that was unquestionably fair and accurate, despite the fact that blacks, Latinos and American Indians often found their access to the ballot hindered by intimidation or even force. Now it seems that everyone is questioning whether they will face obstacles when it comes to casting their votes — and whether their votes will be counted accurately.
In an effort to ensure that voters have accurate information, Boulder Weekly looked into some of these allegations and rumors, trying to separate truth from rumor from viral paranoid e-mail. Here’s what we found:
Republican County Clerk gives college students inaccurate information — TRUE
Robert Balink, county clerk and recorder for El Paso County, sent a misleading flier to officials at Colorado College, urging administrators to circulate the flier among their students, most of whom are newer voters and have registered as Democrats.
The flier stated: “What this means is that if your parents still claim you on their income tax returns, and they file that return in a state other than Colorado, you are not eligible to register to vote or to vote in Colorado.”
The information was false. To vote in Colorado, one must be a resident of the state for 30 days prior to the election.
The incident was one of several around the nation in which students, who lean heavily in favor of Barack Obama, have found their right to vote challenged. Students at Virginia Tech received incorrect information promising that students who registered to vote there would no longer be able to be counted as dependents on their parents’ tax returns. A voter-rights activist posing as a college student encountered similar problems in Greenville and York counties in South Carolina, where officials told her she could not register to vote if she was in the state for the purpose of attending college. When confronted, staff in Greenville County admitted that their staff members were in error.
Democratic officials and voter-rights activists say that such misinformation is inexcusable when it comes from an election official.
Officials who misstate the truth ought to be removed from office, they say. They say that passing inaccurate information to new voters is tantamount to voter intimidation. Once false information is out there, it becomes difficult to reach the voters who heard it to make sure they know the truth.
Boulder County Clerk Hillary Hall advises all voters, including students, to verify their voter status online as soon as possible to make certain everything is in order prior to Election Day. She also urges students to vote early so that if they encounter problems those problems can be resolved before Nov. 4.
Colorado is on a national voters’ rights watch list — TRUE
BlackBoxVoting.org, a national watchdog organization, has placed Colorado on its list of states to watch during the 2008 election. Specific concerns focus on eight counties: Arapahoe, Denver, Douglas, Jefferson, Mesa, Montrose, Pueblo and Routt. Douglas, Montrose, Pueblo and Routt counties were mentioned for what BlackBoxVoting.org calls “severe quality-management problems” that led to long lines. These counties were also listed by the organization for past problems with incorrect voting-machine operation, inadequate supplies and failure to follow security requirements.
Jefferson and Mesa counties made the watch list because they’re using what BlackBoxVoting.org considers to be among the “worst voting machines in the country.”
“The iVotronic touch-screen is famous for malfunctions, fraud symptoms and a vendor that coerces counties to become so dependent on its drive-by technicians that local election officials can’t run the election at all without them,” the organization states on its website.
Bev Harris, executive director of a donor-funded organization, says that Denver County, in particular, worries her because of its new voting system, which requires all ballots to be transported to county election headquarters. Past elections elsewhere have demonstrated the risk that transporting ballots entails, including ballots that are tossed or destroyed before being counted, she says. In addition, the system Denver County uses to tally votes is “obsolete,” Harris says.
“In the primary, which had a low percent of turnout, it took them four days to count the results because these are very old, slow machines,” she says. “Unless they do something new, we have about 100 percent certainty that Denver is not going to be able to bring in its results in time.”
The Colorado Secretary of State’s office also expressed concern about most of these counties, but all of them except Denver and Douglas counties have been removed from the Secretary of State’s watch list.
Rich Coolidge, spokesman for the Secretary of State’s office, says officials are confident that the other counties have addressed their problems and are prepared for the election.
Harris is also concerned about the fact that the state has contracted with LEDS, LLC, a private company, to prepare the final results of the election. County officials will turn their counts into LEDS, which will put the information together in a spreadsheet for the Secretary of State. Harris sees a potential for abuse in this situation and questions why the state would continue to work with LEDS, LLC, which was recently named in an ethics scandal involving the company’s owner, John Paulsen, and Holly Lowder, the state’s former director of elections, who was found to be living in a pricey home owned by Paulsen. Lowder had been influential in obtaining government contracts for Paulsen’s company. She has since resigned.
Harris can’t fathom why the state would involve a privately owned company in the reporting process in the first place.
“It’s just an unbelievable abdication of their responsibility,” she says.
Coolidge says that officials became aware of the situation with Lowder and Paulsen and “took appropriate action.” He could not comment on what action was taken because it was a personnel matter. He says county clerks across Colorado will know if the votes from their counties are reported incorrectly.
Boulder County Clerk and Recorder Hillary Hall says LEDS simply takes the county’s results and turns them into a spreadsheet, which it passes on to the state.
“We have other means to verify if there are discrepancies between the county tally and the state’s report,” she says. “We make sure it’s consistent.”
But Harris isn’t convinced that these measures will be enough to ensure a fair election in Colorado.
“I think Colorado has a very good chance of being the next Florida or Ohio,” she says. “It could be the deciding state in the election. It has these multiple, overlapping issues, and when you put it all together, it’s actually scary.”
Colorado has “purged” a quarter of voters from its voter rolls — FALSE
First Truthout.org posted an interview with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in which Kennedy said that there were Republicans running about 30 scams around the country in an effort to influence the vote, sometimes interpreting the requirements of law in such a way as to deprive citizens of their right to vote.
“One of these requirements under HAVA [Help America Vote Act] is called ‘the perfect match,’ and what that does is little known, but it is devastating. A quarter of the voters in Colorado have just been removed from the rolls because of this — just this one scam.”
Then on Oct. 9, the New York Times reported that Colorado was among several states that were mistakenly removing large numbers of voters from their rolls.
Secretary of State Mike Coffman says that nowhere near 25 percent of voters have had their registrations cancelled. His office said 14,049 voters had been canceled from the rolls since July 21, either because they had moved out of their county or the state; had duplicate registrations; were serving time as felons; had died; weren’t citizens; or had withdrawn their registrations.
Rich Coolidge, spokesman for Coffman, says there’s no basis in fact for the Truthout.org story.
“I looked at that transcript, too, and there are things on there that just boggle my mind,” he says. “We just rolled over more than 3 million registered voters in Colorado. If somehow a quarter of 3 million voters were removed from the voter rolls, I would presume a red flag would go up that 750,000 people had disappeared. That’s not the case.”
Coolidge says the Secretary of State’s office doesn’t remove voters from the rolls or cancel voter registrations. Those actions are taken on the County Clerk level, he says.
The Secretary of State’s office has tracked voter registrations monthly since 2004 by county, party, gender and congressional district, and would certainly notice if large numbers of voters were vanishing from the rolls, he says.
In Boulder County, 1,981 voters have been removed from the county rolls either because they moved out of the county or state; 1,199 have been removed since April because they were found to be duplicate registrations; 808 were removed based on coroner’s reports that they were deceased; and 55 were removed because they’re now serving sentences as felons. The total — 4,043 — is nowhere near 25 percent of the county’s 213,545 registered voters.
“What you would see if you went back is that when states convert to their state-wide voter registration system there are a lot of voter cancellations because it’s the first time we’ve been able to clean up the list with who’s been registered in Boulder County,” says Hall. “I can speak for Boulder County. When we run a duplicate report, we look at the voter record. We look at the voter documents to determine is this the same voter who’s now living someplace else or is this a different voter, and if we have any doubt we call.”
Sometimes typos or clerical errors result in duplicates, and sometimes people have similar names. Rather than assuming it’s the same person, Hall says her staff calls the person in question to try to sort it out.
She recalls one case of twins with very similar names. They had the same birthday, almost identical names but different driver’s license and Social Security numbers. Staff contacted them to determine whether the registrations represented two different people or the same person with a typographical error in the name.
Again, Hall encourages voters to verify their registration status and address any possible mistakes or concerns now, as far in advance of the election as possible.
“Voting is a partnership,” she says. “We do our best, and we need voters to do their part, too.”
Colorado has violated election laws by removing voters from the rolls within 90 days of an election — MAYBE
The Oct. 9 article in the New York Times also claims that some states had removed voters from the rolls within 90 days of the election, which is a violation of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA).
Secretary of State Mike Coffman says that 2,454 voter records were cancelled within that 90-day window, but that they were duplicate registrations. He has asked the Colorado Attorney General’s office for an interpretation of the law to determine whether it applies to duplicates. The ruling had not been made as of press time.
Boulder County ballots have unique identifying marks — TRUE
Harris of BlackBoxVote.org says that Boulder County’s ballots have a “snoop” feature that could permit an unscrupulous official to connect a particular ballot to a particular voter.
“It’s a violation of the Colorado Constitution to put a unique identifying mark on a ballot,” she says. “All ballots from the same district should be identical. There should never be a mark that’s unique to the voter. Boulder County has been called on the carpet many times for putting the ‘snoop feature’ on the ballot. Their vendor came in and showed them how to remove that feature, and they refused. You have to wonder what is going on with that.”
Hall says it’s nothing sinister.
What Harris is referring to is a randomly generated number that’s unique to the ballot. It exists to prevent people from photocopying the ballot and voting more than once.
Despite what Harris and other voter activists say, the number cannot be traced to an individual voter, Hall says.
“Bottom line, yeah, I would eventually like to get it off, but right now with the software system that we have it’s definitely necessary to ensure the accuracy of the vote,” she says, adding, “I hadn’t heard it called the ‘snoop feature.’”
She says the number also assists in years where there’s a multi-page ballot.
“If we don’t have those on it there’s no way for us to know that we’ve got page one and page two,” she says. “The other thing those unique numbers allow us to do is find a particular ballot if we need to do so. If we have any problem in the scan batch and we have to go back and find that ballot — if the machine misread it or the corner got folded — we have to go through and find it and count down 700 pieces of paper to find it, and even then we wouldn’t be sure we’d found it [if it didn’t have a number].”
Hall says that if the county were purchasing a new system, she’s not sure whether she’d support buying one with this feature.
“But it’s there, and I do take seriously that it has a unique identifier on it, not that you can trace it back at this point,” she says.
Voters wearing Obama paraphernalia to the polls will lose their chance to vote — FALSE
In an e-mail that’s circulated widely on the Internet, some unknown individuals are asserting that those who are identified as being Obama supporters by their T-shirts, pins and hats are going to be sent away from the polls and not permitted to vote.
It’s a long-standing law that electioneering cannot take place within a certain distance of polling places. This includes wearing T-shirts supporting or opposing issues or candidates, as well as political buttons and hats. Anyone who shows up to the polls wearing an Obama T-shirt — or a McCain/Palin T-shirt, for that matter — will be asked to turn the shirt inside out, Hall says. They’ll be asked to remove hats and buttons before being allowed to enter the polling place. But they will not forfeit their right to vote — unless they refuse to cooperate by obeying the law.
So when you go to the polls, the change you need might be a change of clothing.
Anyone who encounters what they believe is illegal exclusion from the polling place should contact their county clerk immediately.
“We have our county attorneys who will be on standby on Election Day and also for early voting,” Hall says. “My stance is that if you’re a voter in Boulder County we will make sure that no one gets in your way.”
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Know your rights
Voting is the right of all adult U.S. citizens, but voting is also a responsibility. Take time to know your rights, to check your registration and polling place before Election Day and, if possible, to vote early to avoid long lines. If you have questions regarding your mail-in ballot or the election, contact the Boulder County Clerk and Recorder’s office at 303-413-7740.
If you have a criminal record
Many people believe that once you have a criminal record you can never vote. This is not true. So who is eligible to vote?
People who have served their sentence, including parole if required;
People who are pretrial detainees in jail;
People who are currently on probation for either a misdemeanor or a felony;
Inmates currently serving a jail sentence for a misdemeanor.
If you’ve moved
If you’ve already registered to vote in Boulder County, you have until Election Day to complete a Certificate of Registration Form for a change of address in a Boulder County Clerk & Recorder’s Office stating that you moved within Boulder County prior to 30 days before the election.
A registered voter may also complete an Emergency Registration Form at a Boulder County Clerk & Recorder Office if they are registered to vote in another county and have lived in Boulder County at least 30 days prior to the election, but did not register in Boulder County on or before Oct. 6.
If you’re a college student
Misinformation circulated in Colorado has confused the issue of whether out-of-state students are eligible to vote in this state.
Students who have registered to vote in Colorado may vote in Colorado, provided their registration is complete. Students should check the status of their registration online to be certain.
State law requires only that a citizen be 18 by Election Day and a Colorado resident for 30 days prior to an election in order to register to vote in Colorado. Whether or not a student’s parents claim him or her as an income tax deduction in another state has no bearing at all on voter eligibility.
If you’re homebound, need transportation or are sick on Election Day
Both Democratic and Republican party volunteers will be available to help voters reach the polls on Election Day.
Democrats can call 303-442-3423.
Republicans can call 303-443-6606.
If you encounter problems with your registration
at the polls
If you know you’ve registered to vote but encounter difficulties at the polls:
Notify the election judges that you’re a registered voter and ask for their help, or contact the Boulder County Clerk and Recorder’s office at 303-413-7740.
If the problem cannot be corrected on site, ask to vote with a provisional ballot. If your status as a registered voter can be confirmed, your votes will be counted.
If you’re a first-time voter who is voting by mail
You will need to provide a copy of one of the following forms of identification:
A valid Colorado driver’s license
A valid identification card issued by the Department of Revenue
A valid U.S. passport
A valid employee identification card with a photograph of the eligible elector issued by any branch, department, agency or entity of the U.S. government or Colorado, or by any Colorado county, municipality, board, authority or other political subdivision
A valid pilot’s license issued by the Federal Aviation Administration or other authorized agency of the U.S.
A valid U.S. military identification card with a photograph
A copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or other government document that shows the name and address of the elector (A cable bill, a telephone bill, documentation from a public institution of higher education in Colorado containing at least the name, date of birth and residence address of the student elector, or a paycheck from a government institution are sufficient forms of ID)
A valid Medicare or Medicaid card
A certified copy of a U.S. birth certificate
A certified documentation of naturalization
A valid student identification card with a photograph of the eligible elector issued by an institution of higher education in Colorado, as defined in section 23-3.1-102 (5), C.R.S.
Or you may provide one of the following numbers (without providing a physical copy of the number):
A valid Colorado driver’s license number
A valid Colorado Department of Revenue identification number
At least the last four digits of the voter’s Social Security number
To check your voter information, go to www.voteboulder.org. (Note: If you have a hyphenated name and are verifying your registration online, try entering your last name both with and without the hyphen. A change in software means that some hyphenated names must be entered without the hyphen.)
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Tips for voting
Check your voter registration online at www.voteboulder.org. If you have a hyphenated name, you may need to try entering your last name with and without the hyphen. If you encounter any discrepancies or problems, contact the County Clerk and Recorder’s office as soon as possible to correct them before Election Day.
Find the location of your polling place. Vote early if possible to avoid long lines and to permit yourself time to address any problems that might arise. If you have a mail-in ballot, send it in or drop it off at any of the drop-off locations as soon as you’re comfortable making your choices.
Bring a cheat sheet to the polls so that you can vote quickly and be prepared to wait in long lines. Bring a book or your iPod.
Leave the political buttons, hats and T-shirts at home.
If you encounter problems at your polling place, seek help from the staff on site. If the problem can’t be resolved, ask for a provisional ballot. If your status as a registered voter can be confirmed, your votes will be counted.
If you experience harassment or what you believe is intimidation or an attempt to prevent you from voting, contact the County Clerk and Recorder’s office immediately. Attorneys will be working Election Day to make sure that registered voters are able to cast their ballots.
For more information, call the Boulder County Clerk and Recorder’s Election Division at 303-413-7740. Or go to www.voteboulder.org.
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