The Colorado House gave preliminary approval yesterday to a bill authorizing the Secretary of State to contact people who might have registered to vote without being citizens. But lawmakers disagree about what the bill would do and whether it is needed.
Secretary of State Scott Gessler is worried there may be non-citizens voting in Colorado.
Gessler's office checked the state's voter rolls against the Department of Motor Vehicles and found thousands of people registered to vote who at some point told the DMV they weren't citizens. But Gessler says the law isn't clear on whether he can contact those people and ask them to prove they've been naturalized. That's why he wants this bill. Right now, Gessler says, the only thing he can do is send the case to a district attorney.
GESSLER: "We think it's a lot better in Colorado for us to send a letter to someone, for someone to get a letter in the mail, than for them to get a knock on the door."
Gessler's office says the same system is already in place to make sure parolees aren't voting. Republican representative Chris Holbert is sponsoring the bill. He told the House yesterday that this is simpler than requiring all voters to prove they're citizens, something other bills have tried to do.
HOLBERT: "House Bill 1252 provides a soft-touch, low-cost approach to purging our voter registration database of people who are not eligible to be registered and therefore not eligible to vote."
House Democrats like representative Dan Pabon don't agree with that view.
PABON: "I would characterize this bill as the Disenfranchisement Act of Colorado Voters of 2011."
Democrats questioned whether any immigrant would actually risk a felony conviction and deportation to cast a ballot.
Representative Claire Levy says the real problem is probably clerks at the DMV automatically suggesting that everyone register to vote, without considering citizenship. And she worries that people flagged as possible non-citizens could have trouble getting back on the rolls.
LEVY: "This is disenfranchising people based on some hunch the Secretary of State may have. There's no standard of proof and there's no screening and monitoring for quality control."
The bill has one more vote in the House and is likely to pass, but faces a much tougher time in the Democraticly controlled Senate.