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Registration difficulties could discourage potential voters

Colorado hasn’t experience the same level of voter purges as other states.
Photo: John Mazzetta · The Sentry

Registration difficulties could discourage potential voters

As reported by The Associated Press earlier this month, 53,000 voter registrations were put on hold in Georgia, unbeknownst to many of these potential voters.  

This incident added further tension to the state governor’s race. Democratic nominee Stacy Abrams, who’s been an advocate for voting rights throughout her career, accused her republican opponent, Brian Kemp, the current Georgia Secretary of State overseeing voter registrations, of deliberately suppressing democratic voters. Abrams said on Meet the Press that this behavior from Kemp fits “a pattern of behavior where he tries to tilt the playing field in his favor.” 

Meanwhile, Kemp suggested in a recent appearance on Fox and Friends, that these registrations were put on hold to prevent voter fraud, adding, “Hard-working Georgians should decide who their governor is, not people here illegally like my opponent wants.” 

The Associated Press found that 70 percent of the registrations put on hold were from black voters, further creating tensions with Abrams,  who would be the first African-American woman governor if she won.

Other states have had similar issues, as earlier this month the Supreme Court refused to block a North Dakota state law that requires voters to display an ID with a current residential street address. Critics of this law, such as the Native American Rights Fund, argue that it disproportionately disenfranchises Native American voters whose tribal IDs usually list PO Box numbers instead of street addresses. 

These incidences in Georgia and North Dakota have created concern for voters nationwide. According to a report earlier this year from the Brennan Center for Justice, a public policy institute, stated “The rate at which people are being purged from the voting rolls has increased substantially compared to a decade ago.” Brennan Center counsel Jonathan Brater told NPR these purges negatively affect voter turnout, as purges “have the effect of making it more difficult for people who are not necessarily the most regular voters.” 

Caroline Fry, the Outreach Director of Common Cause Colorado, an organization that advocates for increased civic participation, said, “I think Americans are kind of on high alert because of what we’re seeing in Georgia.” However, she wants to assure Coloradans that “we haven’t experienced anything in terms of purging…we have one of the best election systems in the country.” 

According to Fry, the Colorado legislature passed a series of reforms in 2013 that “made Colorado into a model for our electoral system.” Colorado now automatically registers voters through the DMV. Anyone who obtains a Colorado driver’s license is automatically registered to vote, so potential voters would have to opt-out of voter registration instead of opting in. 

The 2013 reforms in Colorado also included Election Day registration and eliminated the problem of “Inactive-Failed to Vote” status  in which voters were being denied ballots in certain elections because they failed to vote a single time. 

However, Fry added, “I would just urge people to make sure their voter registration is up-to-date,” since residents should update their place of residence on voter registration records when they move. 

Colorado hasn’t entirely avoided election complications this cycle, as according to CPR, Bent County had to reissue one-fifth of its ballots after 500 ballots went missing in October. 

For students on the Auraria campus, there will be a voter service and polling center open in the Tivoli building from now until Election Day. 

“We try to get folks to think of it as ‘Election Season’ rather than Election Day,” Joe Szuszwalak, Communications Specialist with the Denver Elections Division, said. 

Szuszwalak urges students to cast their ballot as early as possible. He added, “We usually do get a little bit of a wait on Election Day,” so students wanting to avoid standing in line should come to the center at least the day before the election. 

New Era Colorado, a partner organization to Common Cause, will have volunteers on the Auraria campus until 7 p.m. on Election Day to help students register to vote and answer any questions they might have.  

Getting young Americans to vote has been a source of frustration for many politicians in recent years. According to a poll conducted earlier this year by the Public Religion Research Institute and The Atlantic, only 28 percent of adults aged 18 to 29 indicated that they were “absolutely certain” they would vote in the 2018 General Election. The Washington Post suggests this might be a result of changing lifestyles, as in the current era, “a growing percentage of the young have delayed their careers, marriage and children, which delays their political involvement.” 

Fry said Common Cause often hears from students on their voter hotline, as “there’s confusion in terms of establishing residency.” Fry wants to remind students and other young voters that under Colorado law, “if you consider Colorado to be your primary place of residence, you can vote in Colorado.” 

Morgan Royal, the Senior Organizing Director for New Era Colorado, said it’s important to focus on college campuses, because “registration is the number one way to get a young person to turn out and vote,” since young Americans who are registered,  vote at rates similar to older demographics. 

Royal added that there “definitely are structural barriers to voting, like not knowing what the process is,” which is why New Era focuses on outreach and education.

Katie Singleton, a CU Denver student in the School of Public Policy, said as an out-of-state student from Texas, “Voting by mail is incredibly stressful for me. It involves even more pre-planning and action than driving to a voting location.”

She said in 2016, her vote-by-mail request was never received, and she “wasn’t able to afford to travel home to vote in the election and felt robbed of the opportunity to vote.” Singleton has considered re-registering in Colorado, but she’d rather vote “in the state I consider home even if I don’t live there currently.”

Young voters are not the only demographic that widely experience confusion about voting and registration. Colorado has six military bases and nearly 50,000 active duty military members, many of whom consider their permanent residence to be outside of Colorado.  

Websites such as FVAP.org, the Federal Voting Assistance Program, aim to provide voting information for military members and their families. The site encourages military members to request absentee ballots and adds, “Military spouses and eligible family members may be covered under the same law that protects military members’ absentee voting rights.” 

However, it is unclear if military spouses are aware of this available information. April Snow, a military spouse to a servicemember stationed at Buckley AFB in Aurora, said she’s had trouble in the past finding information on how to register to vote.  

Snow, who is registered to vote in Missouri, said, “In the past, I tried to vote by mail and it never came. This year I’m going to try electronically to see if I’ll get to vote.” She adds that this will be her first year voting due to her unsuccessful attempts in the past to request an absentee ballot. 

Snow believes that voter information is “definitely a big issue for military spouses because no one actually stops and thinks about us. They don’t realize how many of us were just as young as our spouses when they enlisted.” She added, “We tend to get lost” during both tax season and election season. 

Brater believes problems that Snow and others have faced decrease voter turnout even when people are eligible to vote. “When people have bad experiences with the voting system, a lot of people react to that by saying, ‘Well forget about it, I’m not going to do this again,’” Brater said. 

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