Major Pro-Voting Rights Bill Advances In Colorado

Colorado is one step closer to a major overhaul of its election laws after a House committee advanced a bill to make voting significantly easier and more accessible in the Centennial State.

The Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act passed through the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee easily on Monday by a 7-4 vote. If enacted, the legislation would take three important steps: implement Election Day Registration (whereby citizens can both register and vote on Election Day), automatically send mail ballots to every voter, and create a real-time statewide voter database to prevent fraud.

The Denver Post has more:

The bill cleared its first legislative hurdle Monday evening when it passed the House’s State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee by a 7-4 party line vote, after more than seven and a half hours of testimony from dozens of public officials and otherwise private individuals on each side. it now moves to the House appropriations committee. […]

Those promoting the changes said the bill is uniquely Colorado, and the state could take the lead nationally on making elections more convenient to voters. They are confident other states will follow — because voters like mail voting (74 percent in Colorado last November), while preserving in-person voting at a few early voting centers, and, eventually, saving millions of dollars for counties. […]

Other clerks, though, said switching to mail will mean buying less equipment to operate and maintain for a ever-shrinking number of people who still vote in person. That could save millions of dollars in some county over a longer period of time. Denver expects to save a total of about $730,000 in next year’s general election alone, director of elections Amber McReyholds said.

These reforms could provide a sharp boost to turnout in Colorado. Two states, Washington and Oregon, currently employ universal vote-by-mail. (Colorado’s proposal differs slightly in that it preserves in-person voting centers for those who prefer that to mailing in their ballot.) Their turnout rates exceed the national average by more than five percentage points.

In addition, Election Day Registration provides a significant boon to a state’s participation rate. Academic studies have found that EDR boosts turnout by 7 to 14 percentage points. As a result, it’s a reform that’s grown in popularity of late, with 11 states currently allowing EDR, most recently California and Connecticut.

The Colorado bill enjoys some bipartisan support. One of its main proponents is former Republican Secretary of State Donetta Davidson, and a number of Republican county clerks back the move. Current Secretary of State Scott Gessler (R) opposes the legislation. It now moves on to the House Appropriations Committee, where passage is expected. Democrats currently control both legislative chambers, as well as the governorship.

After spending two years on defense over voting rights, progressives are beginning to go on offense. A number of other states are considering sweeping reforms in addition to Colorado. Oregon has proposed automatically registering its residents to vote, making the process far cheaper and easier for voters, Hawaii is weighing an EDR bill, the New Jersey legislature passed early voting, and Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) has been forced to backtrack and support extending early voting.