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Attempts to Cast Doubt on State’s Election Integrity Die in Committee

On Monday, the Colorado House of Representatives killed five GOP bills that sought to reform Colorado’s election infrastructure, which has been called “The Gold Standard” for U.S. election processes. Weighing in during the five-hour hearing was a panel of State, Civic, Military, and Veterans Affairs Committee members.

Colorado State Capitol and grounds. Photo by Colorado Public Radio

A group of 10 witnesses to the hearing, several of whom provided testimony in support of bills, were split evenly between those who supported the bills and those who opposed them. The committee concluded that the proposed house bills would together undermine confidence in the state’s voting processes and politicize the state’s election process.

“Across the nation, we are seeing a tsunami of legislation to suppress voters and spread the big lie about the 2020 election,” said Secretary of State Jena Griswold. “Although Colorado is considered the nation’s gold standard for elections, there have been bills introduced to undermine confidence and suppress the votes of Coloradans. I applaud the legislators who rejected these types of election-related bills today.”

The bills included:

House Bill 21-1086 Rep. Stephanie Luck (R-Penrose) introduced that bill, which would have only allowed voters who could provide proof of citizenship access to a ballot (apparently a drivers license would no longer be good enough, you’d have to locate your birth certificate or show a U.S. passport). Luck requested to postpone her bill indefinitely and the committee obliged on a 9-2 vote. Of the five bills, this was the only bipartisan action the panel took during the lengthy meeting.

House Bill 21-1088 Rep. Andy Pico (R-Colorado Springs) introduced this bill, which would require the state auditor to conduct an annual audit of the statewide voter registration system. Pico’s bill, like the remaining three, was killed by the committee on a party-line vote.

House Bill 21-1170 Rep. Tim Geitner (R-Falcon), introduced the bill, which would have created a bipartisan commission made up of outside experts to evaluate the security of electronic election systems and make recommendations to the Secretary of State.

House Bill 21-1176 Rep. Richard Holtorf (R-Akron) introduced this bill, which sought to create a bipartisan commission to advise the state auditor on standards for a comprehensive audit of the state’s election processes, potentially undoing the state’s much-admired local county level election processes.

House Bill 21-1053  Rep. Dave Williams (R-Colorado Springs) introduced this bill, designed to allowed registered voters to request an election recount; presumably when they don’t like the result.

Though each of the bills appeared written to address different issues, the Secretary of State’s Office confirmed that much of the testimony on all five was designed to plant doubt in the state’s election processes. Opponents of the bills, including a representative from Griswold’s office, said the measures would unnecessarily intrude on an election administration system from the state level down to the county level. Proposal backers said the legislation “would be a first step in restoring the trust in the system” that they said has been lost.

The floor of the House of Representatives at the Colorado State Capitol

“There’s no trust because no one’s listening and there’s no trust because it seems like there’s only gaslighting, saying, ‘Nothing’s happening, everything’s perfect, nothing to see, go away,’” ” witness Carmen Bontrager said while testifying in support of Holtorf’s bill. “We’ve all taken time out of our afternoons to act on our civil duties and show up to a committee hearing where everyone seems to already have their minds made up, which further erodes trust.”

But Rep. Chris Kennedy, a Lakewood Democrat who serves as the panel’s chair, countered that while he was sympathetic to the loss of confidence and trust, it did not stem from a failure by elections officials or systems but rather “because of the misinformation that was put out into the world around last November’s election.”

“I would say voters have lost confidence because their leaders have told them there’s a problem here and pointed at something that doesn’t actually have a lot of evidence behind it,” he added, just prior to calling the vote on Pico’s bill.  “Many of us on this committee believe the entire reason we’re talking about election fraud is because of a false narrative that was put out there by the 45th president of the United States,” he said. “And we’re certainly entitled to all have different opinions about that but those kinds of narratives are the very things that shake the confidence in our election.”

Newly-elected Dist. 60 Rep. Ron Hanks (R-Penrose), objected to Kennedy’s words, calling his comments “inappropriate.”

“If we are supposed to be exchanging ideas here, labeling me a conspiracy theorist kind of sets me on my heels,” said Hanks. “Rules ought to matter, laws ought to matter and the feelings of the opposition ought to matter and there ought to be some conciliation from whoever the victor is and it’s hard to get that if one side is feeling slighted.”

“In these divided times especially, it’s hard, I know,” said Rep. Steven Woodrow (D-Denver), who commented that “losing elections stinks.”

“In January 2017, I found myself outraged, marching in a sea of pink hats,” added Woodrow, referring to the Women’s March the day after the 2017 inauguration.  “Respectfully though, if we want to bolster trust and integrity, the place to start is with facts and evidence, and we haven’t seen that evidence.”

As of Feb. 19 across the U.S. the Brennan Center has tracked attempts by state lawmakers who have carried over, pre-filed, or introduced 253 bills with provisions that restrict voting access in 43 states. It has also tracked 704 bills with provisions that expand voting access in a different set of 43 states. It should be noted that in some cases such as the recent voting rights bill signed into law in Georgia, that a single bill can have provisions with both restrictive and expansive effects.

For those who want to learn more about the schedule and workings of the Colorado House of Representatives, follow this link: https://leg.colorado.gov/agencies/house-of-representatives