DENVER — Next week's historic Colorado recall election is being viewed as a key litmus test of the nation's appetite for gun control laws, but it's also the test run for the state's hotly contested elections law.
The Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act, passed by the Democratic-controlled legislature in May with no Republican votes, allows same-day voter registration and makes mail-in voting the norm. But it goes even further than that, critics say.
What if you live in Boulder but want to vote in the Colorado Springs legislative recall election? There's a way. What if you want to vote in both the Colorado Springs and Pueblo recalls? That's also possible. What if you're a Colorado College student who lives in Michigan but wants to cast a ballot? No problem.
State officials are pushing back at the doomsayers, but that's how critics and some elections analysts are interpreting the law, known as House Bill 1303, which they say threatens to turn the two recall elections Tuesday into a statewide free-for-all.
"Since the passage of this new horrendous voter law, it's not get-out-the-vote that counts; it's bringing in the votes from outside your district that's going to count," said Jon Caldara, president of the free-market Independence Institute in Denver.
The Colorado flap is emerging as dozens of states battle over the balance between curbing voter fraud and encouraging voter turnout. At least six states — Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin — are fighting lawsuits claiming that requiring photo identification amounts to voter suppression, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In Colorado, the Independence Institute debuted a website last weekend called Bring in the Vote, which explains how the election law works and lists the options available to Colorado voters.
"This is a public service to anyone voting in Colorado who has lived in the state for at least 22 days that if they wish to vote in these recall elections, there's a legal way to do so," Mr. Caldara said. "I'm not calling on them to do so, but if you want your voice to be heard, you may do so by using this new election law sponsored by [state] Sens. Angela Giron and John Morse and signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper."
Ms. Giron and Mr. Morse are the Democratic legislators facing recalls over their votes in favor of the sweeping gun control legislation signed into law in March. The elections bill initially was scheduled to take effect next year but later was tweaked to take effect immediately upon the governor's signature.
"We don't know who changed it, but we know it was changed after the petitions were pulled for the Giron and Morse recalls," Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert said last week on KOA-AM's "The Mike Rosen Show."
Debate has raged since then over what exactly the law does and doesn't allow. Several county clerks and elections analysts have raised alarms over key provisions, including the removal of the requirement for voters to live for any amount of time in the precinct in which they vote.
Rich Coolidge, spokesman for the secretary of state's office, said Thursday the recalls are being treated as one election, and voters cannot cast ballots in both. He added that the state's computerized system will detect any duplicate voters.
But Douglas County Clerk and Recorder Jack Arrowsmith said his understanding of the law is that anyone living anywhere in Colorado for at least 22 days may vote in the Pueblo or Colorado Springs recalls, as long as they stipulate their intent to live in the district, opening the door for so-called "gypsy voters."
"Without further clarification from the secretary of state's rule-making, I don't believe any law would be broken," said Mr. Arrowsmith, whose office is not administering either of the recalls.
Secretary of State Scott Gessler tried to reduce the potential for "gypsy voters" in his rule-making issued last month, but those rules were thrown out last week by a Denver District Court judge who said the rules were stricter than the law required.
State Democrats insist that the new elections law does nothing to allow "gypsy voters" and said its critics are encouraging voters to engage in criminal activity.
"I think what they're doing is advertising wholesale voter fraud and asking folks to basically break the law," said state Rep. Dan Pabon, the bill's sponsor. "I think it's a bit of a red herring to throw up these new tactics and say, 'This is what 1303 brought you,' when in reality that's not true. A lot of the suggestions would be crimes."
Colorado's new elections law doesn't require photo ID, which already has resulted in at least one glitch. The Pueblo County clerk and recorder recently mailed a yellow voter identification card created for the recall election to a woman who died more than a year ago.
"If the deceased are getting 'voter ID cards,' it's safe to say the system has some major flaws," said the conservative website Colorado Peak Politics. "And since someone could take the late Mrs. [Helen] Lucero's voter ID card and cast a ballot, without any further proof that they are, in fact, Mrs. Lucero, we can't really know who exactly is voting."
The Bring-in-the-Vote website says voters need to meet only four requirements to cast ballots in Colorado: They must be 18 or older; they must have lived in Colorado for at least 22 days; they must have an address, which could be a hotel or homeless shelter; and they must affirm that it is their intention to make the address their permanent home.
Because both recall elections allow early voting, Colorado voters could declare their intent to live in Colorado Springs on Monday, then declare their intention to live in Pueblo on Tuesday, which would allow them to cast ballots in both elections.
"If I change my mind, is that illegal?" Mr. Caldara said. "The law very specifically says you can't vote twice in the same election. The question is, is this the same election? It sure looks like two different elections: You have different ballots, different candidates. There's no crossover at all."
Speculation is rampant that advocates on both sides will truck in their supporters by the thousands on and before election day. The first recall of an elected state official in Colorado history also could provide a template on which upcoming state elections are based.
"I believe the winner of this election and all future Colorado elections will be the candidate who has the most buses," Mr. Caldara said.
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