Backers of a bill that would mandate mail-in ballot elections as the standard for Colorado claim that the legislation would increase voter participation, despite empirical data to the contrary. HB 1303, known as the Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act, is a partisan election-law overhaul drafted by Colorado’s far left groups such as Common Cause and Progressive Coalition, along with big labor union groups like AFSCME and the AFL-CIO.
Under the measure, traditional precinct polling places would be eliminated in exchange for mail-in ballot elections across the state. Coloradans would no longer be able to “opt out” of receiving a mail ballot and instead could only choose to visit a new county wide “voting center” if they do not wish to vote via mail. The one-sided groups behind the legislation allege that such a push to standardize mail-in elections would increase voter participation, but have yet to present statistics to substantiate their claim.
Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler, the one who would have the responsibility to enforce and maintain the new election laws, came out strongly against the legislation. Gessler’s office cited a recent and comprehensive study published in the Election Law Journal in 2011 which found that voter turnout significantly decreased in states where all mail-in ballot elections were standard.
According the study, conducted by researchers and California State University, “We analyzed the behavior of 97,381 individual voters across four election from 2006 to 2008 and found that when all-mail balloting was implemented, the estimated odds of an individual registrant voting decreased by 13.2%.”
California, Oregon, and Washington, the most well known states with some type of mail-in ballot election laws on the books, all have significantly lower voter participation than Colorado. Colorado saw a 71% turnout rate in the 2012 general election, whereas Washington’s turnout was only 64%, Oregon’s was only 63%, and California’s turnout was 55% – a whole 16 percentage points behind Colorado.
The state of Colorado has the third-highest voter turnout of any other state in the nation under that status quo. Active voter participation has been on the rise in recent years as well as an increase in the percentage of Coloradans who are registered to vote, making HB 1303 seems like a cure in search of a problem.
Current state election law allows voters an opt-in for mail ballots and citizens can also choose to be placed on a permanent mail-in ballot status. Coloradans also have the freedom to change their status at any time and opt-out of receiving mail ballots if visiting their neighborhood voting place becomes more convenient for them.
In addition to actual decreased voter turnout by mail ballots, Secretary Gessler also argued that the bill would increase the likelihood of voter fraud, which happens through mail-in ballots exponentially more than other forms of voting.
Increased voter participation is also challenged by the Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act with the elimination of neighborhood polling places in exchange for a few, county-wide voting centers. The single “test run” of voting centers in Colorado took place in Arapahoe County during the November 2012 general elections. Participation was shown to actually be greatly discouraged as Arapahoe funneled resident voters through just over thirty voting centers on Election Day, which resulted in the longest lines and wait times of any county in Colorado.
The delay became so great that political organizations on both the right and the left sent out emails attempting to guide Arapahoe voters toward centers with shorter wait times. The secretary of state’s office also had to intervene, helping direct last-minute voters to suitable voting locations.
Arapahoe County voters found that the centers with shorter lines were often on the other side of the county from their current location or required nearly an hour drive in traffic, which caused many of them to give up or arrive at the center after the polls had closed.
HB 1303 successfully made its way out of the Democrat-controlled House and into state Senate, where it has been debated this week and is expected to be up for a final vote at any time. Republicans in both houses have expressed great concern and frustration with the one-sided election rewrite, with state Senator from Colorado Springs, Owen Hill, calling out the legislation and its partisan agenda as “horse shit” on the floor of the Senate on Tuesday.
This story was originally featured at Media Trackers Colorado.