The registration shuffle 

Would-be voters find it tough to keep in step

David Graham registered to vote after an earlier form was rejected. - ANTHONY LANE
  • Anthony Lane
  • David Graham registered to vote after an earlier form was rejected.

Outside the clerk and recorder's office in downtown Colorado Springs, country music booms from a pickup, giving the last day of voter registration a festive air.

Inside, DJ Alisha Scott and a colleague from KATC-FM 95.1 give out "Registered Redneck" T-shirts as part of the station's first-ever voter-registration drive.

"With [Colorado residents] being so crucial in the election," Scott says, "you have to get out and you have to vote."

Others showing up Monday to register or update information aren't so peppy. Though the line is seldom long, many would-be voters look weary, skeptical or both.

One man spends 20 to 30 minutes arguing his case and demanding proof he's registered. He explains later that he's homeless and says his registration efforts have been discouraged, most recently in a debate over whether he could list his mailing address as "general delivery" at the post office.

He sounds indignant about varying information he's received from employees in the clerk and recorder's office, and less than certain about his voting prospects.

"They didn't make it easy," he says.

Balink's approach

Of course, making the voting process easy is not a top goal for Bob Balink, El Paso County's clerk and recorder. The outspoken Republican has long called for requiring photo identification at polling places and other measures he says are needed to stop fraud.

Recently, Balink made noise about fraudulent voter registrations after employees found about 10 applications with apparent errors. He also triggered an outcry by releasing information to Colorado College asserting that students from other states are ineligible to vote. (Though Balink later retracted that information, a statement currently posted on the clerk and recorder's Web site warns students about risks of registering to vote in Colorado and suggests they could be victims of exploitation.)

CC students are not the only ones who've had a tough time registering for the Nov. 4 election. Lee Wildenstein, a senior at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, says he submitted 16 registration forms in early September as a volunteer with the Obama campaign. Those who signed up as unaffiliated, including two of his roommates, had their forms quickly processed, he says.

But he and four others who registered as Democrats still could not find proof that their registrations went through. Wildenstein just needed his address changed, but he says it wasn't processed until he visited the clerk's office on Oct. 2.

"They didn't know what happened to mine," he says.

Liz Olson, the county's election manager, indicates that since Aug. 1, a total of 6,157 residents have registered Republican, 6,145 have registered Democratic and 8,588 have declared no party. This represents something of a Democratic surge, given that current registration numbers in the county have Republicans at a 2-to-1 advantage. (Through Oct. 7, El Paso County had 372,359 registered voters, with 164,844 Republicans, 83,737 Democrats, 121,912 unaffiliated and 1,866 with other parties.)

State Sen. John Morse, a local Democrat who has expressed concern that registrations from his own party have been disproportionately rejected or ignored, is skeptical after hearing the latest numbers.

"Something seems wrong there," he says, suggesting there should be more registered Democrats. "With all the work [by] the Obama campaign, it doesn't make sense."

Olson says such worries are unfounded; forms are handled the same whether they come from Republicans or Democrats.

Cases of frustration

About a dozen people rush into the clerk and recorder's office minutes before it closes at 5 p.m. Among them is David Graham, a 21-year-old Colorado College senior, sweating after a side trip to the wrong building. He clutches a crumpled letter explaining that he made a mistake on his registration form and needs to submit a new form; he admits he's had the letter for days but forgot about the deadline until late Monday afternoon.

Others who register Monday have greater cause for irritation. Susan Powell (relative of Indy sales staffer P.K. Powell) was already a registered voter when she tried signing up online for a mail ballot this summer. After starting to fill out the form, she changed her mind and closed the window.

She didn't think about her registration again until she searched the secretary of state's Web site over the weekend. She was alarmed to find her entire registration had somehow been deleted.

"If I hadn't checked ..." she says in a tone of dread.

The homeless man struggling to register Monday offers a more complicated story. He says he's a former high-tech employee who worked with supercomputers, but he's been homeless for years, bouncing between friends' houses and living at times out of his car.

"That wave of employment has fizzled," the 56-year-old says, asking that his name not be printed to save him from another obstacle in future job hunts.

Though homelessness doesn't make anyone ineligible to vote, it presents numerous challenges. His registration as a Democrat four years ago, which listed his physical address as an intersection in northern Colorado Springs, was rejected, so he wanted clear answers this time.

He got few. One challenge was finding a mailing address, and he says different employees in the clerk's office said different things about what's allowed. He also believes one employee misspelled his name as she typed it into the system, invalidating his application.

In the end, diligence seemed to pay off as the man received a copy of his voter registration card. He believes those in his situation, though, are asked to reach a high bar.

"Most people," he says, "would have just blown it off."



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