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Voter Gain or Recipe for Fraud? 

Proposal would let Coloradans register, cast their vote on the same day

Let's say you want to vote in the Nov. 5 election. You have until Oct. 7 to sign up. After that, tough luck.

Under current Colorado law, to be eligible to cast a ballot, a voter must have registered at least 29 days before a primary or general election to cast their vote.

That would change, however, under an initiative expected to make it onto the statewide ballot on Nov. 5. Known as the Colorado Voter Initiative, it would allow voters to register at their respective polling places on Election Day.

Same-day registration is already allowed in six other states Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Supporters of the initiative say it should be allowed in Colorado as well, noting that in the 2000 general election, 43 percent of eligible Colorado voters about 1 million people didn't show up at the polls.

In comparison with Colorado's 57-percent turnout, states with same-day registration had an average turnout of 63 percent, notes Michael Huttner, campaign manager for the initiative.

"They actually lead the country in their voter turnout," Huttner said of those states that have already adopted same-day registration.

Critics of the initiative, however, say it could lead to increased voter fraud.

"It just leaves the system wide open for problems," said Katy Atkinson, a Denver Republican political consultant who heads a committee formed to fight the proposal, called Coloradans for Fair Elections.

People shouldn't be denied

The Colorado Voter Initiative's bipartisan leadership includes Jared Polis, a Democrat who currently serves on the state Board of Education; and John Donley, a former Republican state senator from Greeley.

In its campaign material, the committee argues that many voters don't become interested in political campaigns until media coverage reaches its peak in the weeks immediately preceding an election. Those people shouldn't be denied their constitutional right to vote, according to the committee.

Also, people who have moved just prior to an election can't vote in their new home district, the committee points out.

The states that already have same-day registration have had "no problems" with fraud, Huttner said.

But Atkinson says same-day registration would make it possible for a person to vote multiple times, by registering to vote in several different counties on Election Day.

Contrary to Huttner's assertion, problems have arisen in other states, Atkinson maintains. In 2000, three people in Milwaukee were convicted of fraud for voting multiple times.

Huttner, however, notes that a voter would need to show a valid photo ID to register on Election Day. Current registration procedures don't require a registrant to show any identification, he says.

Moreover, Huttner points out that the initiative calls for "provisional balloting," which means that ballots cast by same-day registrants will be separated from other ballots. That way, if fraud is suspected, it's easy to go back and investigate, he says.

Voting and Blockbuster

Atkinson, meanwhile, says requiring voters to register in advance isn't too much to ask. "Do we really want it to be easier to register to vote than to rent a movie from Blockbuster?" she asked. "With the opportunity to vote, and self-government, comes a certain amount of responsibility, too."

Implementing the reform could be costly and difficult for many local election officials, Atkinson says. And, she says, it's not really necessary.

"We have a system that's not particularly broke," she said. "It's easy to register."

Terje Langeland

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