Voter Purging Resurfaces in Colorado

PHOTO: An election judge arranges I Vote, I Count stickers on a table in the Marion County Clerks office as voterscast early ballots in Indianapolis, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012.

Michael Conroy/AP Photo

Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler says he has identified 300 more suspected noncitizens on the state's voter rolls, according to a report late Tuesday.

Colorado is one battleground state (the other being Florida) where efforts to purge noncitizen voters -- not voter ID laws -- have spurred talk of potential disenfranchisement ahead of the 2012 election. And the latest news is sure to fuel the controversy surrounding the issue.

According to Ivan Moreno of the Associated Press, the new number comes after 3,903 people were sent letters in August questioning their citizenship. The first sweep of the voter rolls earlier this year identified 141 possible noncitizens.

The next step from the office of Gessler, a Republican, will be to mail letters to the suspected ineligible noncitizen voters that ask them to confirm whether they are citizens or take themselves off the roles. The AP reported that county election officials have been alerted so that they could potentially challenge the votes if they show up to vote.

Noncitizens are not permitted to vote under the law, so on the surface the effort would not seem to pose a problem. But the purges have the potential to disenfranchise eligible voters who, more often than not, turn out to be Latinos.

In a report released Monday, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) wrote that the purges have a "disproportionate chilling effect on voting by eligible Latino voters" since state records often have out-of-date information and that naturalized citizens may still be listed as non-citizens in many instances.

Colorado and Florida have been granted permission from the federal government to use immigration databases to check their information.

But the voter purge, as well as other efforts to combat alleged voter fraud, have led to accusations that Gessler is overly politicizing his role as secretary of state. Ninety percent of the 441 voters suspected of being noncitizens are unaffiliated or Democrats, according to the AP.

In addition, some voters contacted by the state have actually been U.S. citizens and some in the original group of 141 voters have claimed they are citizens, according to the AP. While the numbers seem small, in a toss-up state like Colorado a few voters could swing the election. And critics, which include civil rights groups and Democrats, have said that the risk of voters mistakenly purged from the rolls increases since the checks are happening so close to the election.

When he began the effort in 2011, Gessler originally alleged that the problem of noncitizen voters was much bigger, saying that more than 11,000 were potentially on the rolls. There are more than 3.5 million total voters in Colorado, according to the AP.

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