The state with some of the most accessible elections laws in the nation could soon make it more difficult to cast a ballot.
Colorado lawmakers began debating a bill Wednesday that would require voters to present a photo ID if they register to vote on Election Day — a policy that would disproportionately impact people who are younger, lower income, non-white, and newly naturalized.
While attending a recent conference in DC, Secretary of State Wayne Williams told ThinkProgress that he supports these measures despite the fact that investigations by his predecessor found voter fraud to be nearly non-existent in the state.
“Most people don’t rob banks but we still protect against bank robbery,” he said. “Most people vote honestly but we did have some instances — for example, one individual submitted five separate voter registration forms with sequential Social Security numbers. The overwhelming majority of people don’t do that, but we need to have the protections in place to ensure all of us can have confidence in our elections.”
Though he admitted he’s only seen “a few instances of multiple voter registrations” and zero cases of multiple votes, Williams said he would prefer that all people registering to vote would have to show a government-issued photo ID, “so we’re able to verify that person is who they claim to be.” Currently, Coloradans can use one of 14 acceptable documents to register to vote, including a drivers license, a passport, a student ID, or things like a paycheck or utility bill. Ballots are then automatically mailed out to all registered voters, and more than 95 percent of Coloradans vote by mail.
“It’s hard to conceive of a more accessible system other than telepathically sending in votes,” Williams said. “We’re very loose about what’s an ID. It’s not a very heavy screen.”
In addition to making that screen heavier, Williams also wants to make it easier for officials to toss out mail-in ballots if the voter’s signature doesn’t exactly match the one on his or her registration form. He said his office rejected more than 8,500 ballots in this past election because the signature didn’t match, and a few thousand more ballots that voters simply forgot to sign.
Caught up in the sweep was the ballot of his own 19-year-old daughter. He joked that she had scrawled her signature in a hurry, which looked nothing like the careful script she used when registering. Because her father is the top election administrator in the state, she was able to verify her identity and cast a ballot. Ironically, Williams told a local radio show in 2013 that his daughter complained the state’s online voter registration system was “too easy.”
Despite knowing personally that the system flags perfectly legal, eligible voters, Williams said expanding and strengthening signature verification “absolutely essential” and “the most important thing in terms of the integrity of the elections process.”
“We want to make sure the people returning the ballots are actually the people who did it,” he said. “It’s a concern that if a ballot shows up in a mailbox, you can just return it and sign your husbands’ or your kid who’s away at school’s name.”
Democratic lawmakers in the state are speaking out against the voter ID bills moving forward this week, and could muster enough support to block their passage. Meanwhile, similar measures are advancing in Nebraska, Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, and West Virginia.
On Wednesday, Colorado lawmakers voted down the two bills that would have required a photo ID for same-day voter registration. But the bill’s Republican authors vowed their efforts will continue, as they work to get a ballot initiative on the issue in 2016.