Monday, October 18, 2004

DENVER — Colorado officials yesterday brainstormed about how to ensure a fair, clean election in the wake of widespread accusations of voter-registration fraud.

“There is some evidence of fraud in these voter-registration drives,” Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, said after a meeting with the state’s top elections clerks and district attorneys. “What this meeting is about is trying to make sure there’s no fraud on Election Day.”

With just two weeks before the Nov. 2 election, the state has been rocked by evidence that some voter-registration drives have submitted applications with forged signatures. In other cases, would-be voters have applied to vote as many as 40 times.

At the same time, some registration drives have collected applications and then failed to submit them by the Oct. 4 deadline, prompting Secretary of State Donetta Davidson to announce the use of provisional ballots last week.

At yesterday’s meeting with county clerks and district attorneys, Mrs. Davidson announced procedures for accepting provisional ballots, which are issued to people who say they have registered but whose names fail to appear on the voter roll.

Such ballots would be marked “VRD,” for “Voter Registration Drive.” The would-be voter would have to produce identification and tell when and where they registered. The ballot later would be checked against the state’s voter databases.

Critics have warned that allowing provisional ballots could invite attempts at multiple voting and other fraud, but state elections officials insisted that the state has long allowed emergency registrations on Election Day.

“These vehicles have always been here, so we’re not doing something totally different,” said state elections official Drew Durham.

Mrs. Davidson also sought to assuage fears of massive fraud by pointing out that it was county clerks who had flagged the most egregious cases appearing in recent press accounts.

“When people are told there are hundreds of these cases, they don’t realize that they were all caught by the clerk and recorder and never made it through the system,” Mrs. Davidson said.

Most clerks and lawyers at the meeting chalked up the fraud to overzealous registration workers trying to earn some extra cash. Several of the state’s independent voter-registration groups paid their workers $2 per application and set goals of 10 applications per hour.

Carole Snyder, the Adams County clerk and recorder, said she received 42 applications for the same would-be voter. Her office flagged the excess applications, each of which contained the same information, and pared it down to one.

“Those are not really what I call fraudulent, but are really just a pain in the neck,” Mrs. Snyder said.

Boulder County Clerk and Recorder Linda Salas said some people register repeatedly not with the intent to vote more than once, but rather as Election Day insurance.

“A lot of times, people are registering several times because, ‘Oh, I can’t remember if I registered,’ or ‘Maybe I should do it again, just to be sure,’” Mrs. Salas said.

The clerks are referring cases that appear to be blatant fraud, such as forged signatures, to the county attorneys. Bill Ritter, the Denver district attorney, said his office received 69 such cases from the county clerk last week.

But he said he saw no pattern of a conspiracy to commit election fraud.

“We are not seeing some scam where people are trying to corrupt the process,” Mr. Ritter said. “We’re seeing people who are motivated by greed or laziness.”

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