Wayne Williams undermines his own message that elections work well in Colorado, advocate says – Denverite (blog)

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“Elections are working well in Colorado,” is how Secretary of State Wayne Williams opened a letter to the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, the group convened by President Donald Trump to investigate his baseless claim that between 3 million and 5 million people voted illegally in the 2016 election.

“By every relevant metric, our state ranks as a leader in election administration,” Williams continued. “Thanks to sound policy and the hard work of our 64 county clerks and recorders, Colorado is often ranked first and always ranked in the top five in the nation in both voter turnout and percentage of eligible Coloradans who are registered to vote.”

This positive message is undermined by suggestions later in the letter that state elections officials have access to federal databases to do more to look for potential non-citizens on the voter rolls, said Elena Nunez, executive director of Colorado Common Cause, a nonpartisan group that works on election integrity and voter access issues.

“Unfortunately in the letter, the secretary has several suggestions that we think will make it more likely that eligible voters will be struck from the rolls,” Nunez said.

Williams sent the letter Friday in response to a series of questions the commission asked about how well elections and voting are currently working and what should be changed. Friday was also the original deadline to turn over publicly available voter information, but that hasn’t happened because there is a lawsuit pending over the entire venture.

You can read the letter in full here.

Williams suggests the commission is looking in the wrong places if it’s looking for double voters, felon voters and non-citizen voters. There’s already a voluntary database that collects information from the states and cross-references voter rolls and other databases from the 20 participating states to help keep various state rolls up to date. Encouraging more states to participate in the Election Registration and Information Center would address many of the issues raised by the commission in a more accurate way, Williams wrote.

“Because states’ election officials are the experts at maintaining clean voter rolls and ERIC is a powerful tool to facilitate this, the commission should reach out to ERIC to better understand its processes and security protocols,” Williams wrote. “The commission has requested states’ public voter roll data. While this data may serve a purpose, a single request for data that lacks the non-public data necessary to accurately match voters across states can’t be used to effectively assess the accuracy of voter rolls.

“ERIC states enter into agreements that allow them to securely share sensitive data and to ensure that, when the data is compared, it’s the most up to date and in a uniform, consumable format.”

In other words, what will the commission gain by knowing that 120 Joe Jacksons, all born in 1964, voted in the 2016 election? Because that’s the sort of information the commission will get from public data. In contrast, ERIC will know if a particular Joe Jackson with the same birthday and Social Security number is registered to vote in two different states and voted in both states in the same election.

Nunez said ERIC is also a good tool for finding eligible voters and making sure they’re registered in the right places, and she has no problem with the use of ERIC.

What she is concerned about is Williams’ suggestion that broader use be made of federal databases to check citizenship status of suspected non-citizens because those databases are often not up to date.

“We have to be very careful before going down that path,” she said.

In 2013, then-Secretary of State Scott Gessler flagged potential non-citizen voters for county district attorneys, and the most majority of the cases turned out not to be fraud. In Boulder County, not a one of the 17 cases was an actual non-citizen.

Nunez said the publicly available data that the commission has requested is used not only by campaigns and political parties but also by journalists and election integrity advocates to make sure the system is working and identify areas where it isn’t. That data should remain public, she said.

Nonetheless, the public has reason to be concerned about the commission and whether identification of duplicate voters and non-citizen voters based on inaccurate data could be used as an excuse to purge legitimate voters.

“To the extent that any state is validating the work of the commission, that’s problematic,” she said.

Erica Meltzer

Author: Erica Meltzer

Erica Meltzer covers government and politics. She’s worked for newspapers in Colorado, Arizona and Illinois and once won a First Amendment Award by showing up in the wrong place at the wrong time. She served in the Peace Corps in Paraguay and can swear fluently in Guarani. She gets emotional about public libraries. Contact Erica Meltzer at 303-502-2802, emeltzer@denverite.com or @meltzere.