Publicly available voter information a surprise to some in Colorado
Author: Rachel Riley, The Gazette - July 16, 2017 - Updated: July 16, 2017
Many people casting ballots in Colorado weren’t aware their voter registration information is available to anyone who asks until a federal commission requested it from the states.
Thousands of voters across the state, including more than 250 in El Paso County, have withdrawn their voter registrations or made their information confidential after the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity in late June asked the Secretary of State’s Office for voter data.
The commission, created by President Donald Trump to investigate if voter fraud is going undetected, has since asked state officials to hold off on sending the information, citing a pending federal lawsuit that seeks a restraining order barring the data’s disclosure. Trump has claimed without providing evidence that millions of people voted illegally in the November election, costing him the popular vote, a charge disputed by state elections officials.
Since June 29, Williams’ office has received more than 1,000 calls and emails from voters, many of whom were surprised their voter registration wasn’t kept private, Lynn Bartels, a spokeswoman for Williams’ office, said last week.
Under Colorado law, a registered voter’s name, address, political party affiliation, date of affiliation, gender, year they were born and phone number are all public record. If the voter cast a ballot in a past election also is public record, although how the person voted is not.
In the past 18 months, requests for El Paso County voter registration records have come from elected officials, candidates, political operatives, special districts and other individuals.
Since the beginning of 2016, the county Clerk and Recorder’s Office has received 95 requests for reports including publicly available data for all or some of the county’s roughly 443,000 voters. Anti-tax crusader Douglas Bruce, Republican politician and televangelist Gordon Klingenschmitt and a Gazette reporter are among those who paid the Clerk and Recorder’s Office $25 for a report.
While many states have either refused the request or not responded, Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams will comply with the request if the commission resubmits it, Bartels said.
In a letter sent Friday to the federal commission, however, Williams said there would be no way to determine the accuracy of voting rolls because his office won’t be providing confidential information such as the last four digits of a voter’s Social Security number.
Instead, he recommended the commission contact the Electronic Registration Information Center, a nonprofit organization made up of 20 states that aims to ensure governments have accurate lists of eligible voters.
In Colorado, registration information is kept secret only if a voter requests that it be confidential, which requires swearing under the penalty of perjury that disclosing the person’s address and other personal information could endanger his or her life.
Since 2016, the county Clerk and Recorder’s Office also logged 26 requests for weekly updates on changes to voter registration information, such as party affiliation or address. During that time, 13 special districts and local governments requested voter lists for their jurisdictions, which public agencies typically do when preparing ballots for an election, according to Mattie Albert, a spokeswoman for the Clerk and Recorder’s Office.
Those who request data must fill out a form specifying which of voters’ publicly available details they would like to receive.