WESTERN SLOPE – Ouray County, San Miguel County, and eight other counties across Colorado are waiting to find out whether the Texas-based organization True the Vote intends to follow through on a threat to sue them for allegedly being in violation of federal election law.
True the Vote has accused these counties of having more voters on the registration rolls than they have eligible residents of voting age.
“We are deeply concerned by our discovery of voter rolls across America that contain substantial numbers of ineligible voters, possibly resulting in the disenfranchisement of eligible voters and the subversion of our nation’s electoral process,” True the Vote President Catherine Engelbrecht stated in a letter dated July 31 which was sent to the county clerks in the 10 accused counties.
The letter goes on to threaten legal action against the counties should they fail to “work quickly towards full compliance” with voter registration rules, “rendering further legal proceedings unnecessary.”
True the Vote is not the only organization that has seized on the issue of discrepancies in local voter rolls. Data miners with the Colorado Springs-based organization Media Trackers Colorado allege that “while Ouray County has a total population of 4,356, with 17.8 percent of the population below the voting age, the county has 4,246 people registered to vote,” reports a Sept. 6 article on the conservative blog RedState. “The highest possible number of voting age residents in the county is 3,581, which is 775 less than the actual registered total.”
The same article states that “San Miguel County has a total population of 7,359 with 19.2 percent of the population below the voting age, making the highest possible number of registered voters 5,946. If the census numbers are to be trusted, that results in the possibility of up to 2,390 individuals on the voter rolls who should not be.”
San Miguel County Clerk Kathleen Erie acknowledges that her county has more registered voters than eligible residents of voting age who were counted in the 2010 census. But, she told The Watch, “What sounds like an alarming statistic is highly misleading.”
The discrepancy stems from the fact that Telluride has a highly transient population of young people who “come here and are lifties for three years then get tired of it and head off to Costa Rica,” perhaps without changing their place of voter registration, as well as a plethora of second-home owners who are registered to vote in San Miguel County but may not have been there when the census took place.
Ouray County, too, has a lot of second-homeowners, said Michelle Nauer, who has been Ouray County Clerk for well over a decade. “It is true. The dynamics of Ouray swell in the summertime,” she said. “We have bunches of second-home owners, who are registered to vote here. But where were they in March when the census takers came around and took the census?”
The 10 counties named by True the Vote all have similar issues of transience, said Nauer. They include Mineral, Gilpin, Ouray, San Miguel, Hinsdale, San Juan, Jackson, Cheyenne, Elbert and Summit counties.” They are all either gaming, farming and ranching, or really touristy second-home counties,” she said.
Nauer rolled her eyes at the notion that any of these communities should be suspected of voter fraud, but she and fellow county clerks in the other accused counties have taken the threat of legal action seriously enough to respond to True the Vote in official fashion with long, detailed letters backed by statistics, explaining why their voter rolls appear to be skewed compared to census data.
On its website, True the Vote describes itself as a “nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working to improve the integrity of American elections” which promotes “protecting the rights of legitimate voters, regardless of their political party affiliation.”
But a press release issued by the organization on Aug. 8 about the alleged violations in Colorado reveals a more activist agenda.
The release states that the group brought recent legal action against the State of Indiana “for failing to conduct voter list maintenance or produce records, disabling citizens from verifying current voter registration lists.”
Journalist Steven Rosenfeld picked up on the same theme when he “crashed” a True the Vote rally in Denver last month, and wrote about it for the liberal online news magazine AlterNet.
He described True the Vote as “a voting vigilante group” with three main focuses: policing new voter registrations and winnowing existing voter rolls; training polling place watchers to spot and protest “all kinds of slights” that undermine voting; and filing suits to prompt states and counties to purge voter rolls.
“It is trying to partner with Republican election officials to detect and investigate suspicious names, and then stop those people from voting this November, unless they prove their eligibility,” Rosenfeld alleges.
True the Vote did not respond to a request from The Watch for comment.
Nauer, however, was happy to share her thoughts on the matter. “I got very angry,” she said. “How these people from Houston, Texas could sit there and look at the data of the census and then accuse us of blatantly ignoring the need to clean up the files. It’s meddling. I’m telling you, we do our best to clean out the files but my data is only as clean as the voters give it to me.”
True the Vote isn’t the only group watching Colorado very closely this election season. Just the other day, Nauer got an email from the Mitt Romney campaign, demanding to proof Ouray County’s ballot before it goes to print. Every county in the state got a similar email.
It’s all part of being a purple state, Nauer is quickly realizing. “They don’t know which way we’re going to swing,” she said. “This kind of thing has never happened before. These self-appointed special interest groups and campaigns and committees are all over us to make certain we do it right.”