Opinion

BIDLACK | Don’t be bamboozled by bogus voter-registration mailers

Author: Hal Bidlack - October 12, 2018 - Updated: October 11, 2018

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Hal Bidlack
Hal Bidlack

A story in Colorado Politics this week caused my mind to wander back to my own quixotic race for the U.S. Congress in 2008. One of the most important decisions a candidate must make is upon what to spend his or her precious campaign donations. In July of 2017 I wrote on the role of money in campaigns, and the challenge of both raising and then spending smartly. There is often debate within a campaign about what to spend a few bucks on, including how much TV and radio you want to purchase, as well as more mundane things like how many lawn signs to buy.

But one thing that campaigns think about a lot is voter registration. Usually, the campaigns expect the state and local party organizations to focus on what we in the biz call “GOTV,” which is “get out the vote.” I tried to get people to say it as “goat-vah” but that didn’t catch on. Instead, we political folks always say that G-O-T-V is vital, because it is. That is why you’ll often see nice people with clipboards at political events for all the political parties, going up to people and asking them if they are registered to vote. If they are not, you try to get them signed up. Legally, you can’t ask someone for whom they would vote, and then only sign up the people who support your candidate, but generally speaking, you’ll see Republicans with really nice clipboards at Trump-type rallies, and the Dems will be there with less fancy clipboards at Jared Polis rallies.

The importance of GOTV is one of the few things that Dems and the GOP agree on fully — you need to get folks out to the polls, but first, you need to get them registered. But, and I say this with absolute certainty, you don’t need to get registered twice!

Which is why the aforementioned CP story is so interesting and a tad bit disquieting. It seems a whole lot of Colorado voters, especially in the Pikes Peak region, have gotten a seemingly official looking flyer in the mail, titled “Be Registered Colorado.” It has a nice picture of soldiers with an American flag and the message, “They fight to defend your rights… (in bold type) But records show you may not be registered to vote.”

The mailer contains a link to our state’s voter registration site, GoVoteColorado.com, where you can register or can check to see if you are already registered. As a non-partisan aside, please stop reading for a moment, click on the link and make sure you are registered. Go ahead, I’ll wait here…

Back? Cool. Now flyers like that are more commonly associated with actual official entities engaged in a GOTV effort. But the return address on this flyer is for a PO box in Atlanta, GA. The intrepid reporter who wrote the story, Rachel Riley, kept digging, and found that the flyers were arriving at the homes of some dead people (whom, I will boldly state, should not be allowed to vote) as well as at the homes of women using maiden names or other names from years before. Riley dug a little more and found a shadowy company that has previously earned complaints for similar mailers in other states. The company’s website, Riley discovered, shows that they are the general counsel to the Republican Party of Kentucky and did work for Senator Mitch McConnell.

So, what’s the big deal? Aren’t they just trying to get people registered? Maybe. But such mailers can also cause problems. People may think they are not, in fact, registered when they are, in fact, registered. They may try to register again, and this can create confusion and the possibility of invalid votes.

Some in the GOP have been pushing a completely bogus conspiracy theory that there are millions and millions of illegal votes cast in every federal election. Very careful studies of actual voting records show that the so-called “voter fraud” rates are roughly .0003%. Hardly a crisis. A 2014 study of over 1 billion votes cast found 31 credible fake votes.

And so, if you get a mailer, don’t be fooled into registering (again) if you don’t need to. Go to the secretary of state’s site and check. Then, next month, vote. It’s the greatest legacy handed down to us by the Founding Fathers and it’s every (properly registered) American’s duty. Plus, you get a cool sticker.

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.