South Dakota's freshman Republican Secretary of State Jason Gant is making good use of federal money to protect the voting rights of soldiers and other American citizens living and working overseas.
Gant's counterpart in Colorado, freshman Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler, is doing just the opposite, using his office to deny soldiers the right to vote. Sec. Gessler is imposing a strict interpretation of Colorado law to declare voters inactive if they miss just one general election. Pueblo County Clerk Gilbert "Bo" Ortiz says Sec. Gessler's order violates the Uniform Military and Overseas Voters Act, "which requires clerks to mail ballots to all eligible voters in the military ."
Under Sec. Gessler's ruling, soldiers can still get ballots by filing an official request. But making soldiers fill out more paperwork doesn't exactly ring of "supporting the troops." It also promises to reduce voter participation:
Research on voting and elections backs up Ortiz's common sense take. A University of Colorado-Denver study (pdf) prepared this year for the Colorado Secretary of State by the Buechner Institute of Governance, reports that mailing ballots to all registered voters, active and inactive, would increase participation. Mailing only to active voters, on the other hand, could well suppress turnout because registered inactive voters, although predisposed to cast ballots, are busy and distracted or in and out of town. The mailed ballots remind them to participate, and they do.
Surely soldiers are as busy and distracted as any of us, said Ortiz, and probably more so. He points to legislative efforts to ensure soldiers have access to ballots and a relatively easy time casting them [John Tomasic, "County clerk to Comply with Colo. Sec. of State Order Barring Soldiers from Voting," Washington Independent, 2011.10.03].
Gessler's strict interpretation of absentee voting rules has one connection to our Secretary Gant: it appears to be part of a broader pattern of Republicans exaggerating fears of voter fraud to reduce the voter participation.