DEVNER | Democratic and independent voters were exceedingly more likely to have their right to vote questioned as part of a citizenship status review by Colorado’s Republican secretary of state, The Associated Press learned Monday.
Democrats and independents received 86 percent of the nearly 4,000 letters from Secretary of State Scott Gessler asking them to either voluntarily withdraw their registration or show proof of citizenship, according to figures his office provided the AP.
The breakdown bolstered skepticism that Gessler had a political motivation in sending the letters. Democrats have long argued that proposals to question voters’ citizenship disproportionately affect members of their party and those registered as independents.
Gessler has repeatedly denied claims that party registration plays a factor in his efforts to make sure ineligible voters are not on rolls.
Gessler spokesman Rich Coolidge said officials did not look at party registration when they mailed the letters, and that they only compiled the information because of a media request.
He said Gessler’s office is committed to ensuring that only eligible voters cast ballots. He said about skeptics, “We’re not going to respond to the political noise around this issue.”
Gessler sent about 3,900 letters this month to registered voters suspected of being ineligible to vote because they presented documents showing that they were not citizens, such as a green card, when applying for a driver’s license. They later appeared on voter rolls, Gessler has said.
Of those who received letters, about 1,600, or 40 percent, were Democrats. Another 1,800, or 46 percent, were unaffiliated. Republicans received roughly 500 letters, or 12 percent. The remainder went to smaller political parties.
“It makes me suspect, and it should make the people of the state suspect, what his true motivations are,” said state Rep. Crisanta Duran, a Denver Democrat.
Gessler sent the letters while he was negotiating with federal officials to have access to a database containing information about immigrants who are in the country legally and eligible to receive government benefits, but are not citizens. Florida also has access to the list, and other states have sought it.
On Friday, a week after he sent the letters, Gessler announced that his office had finalized the agreement to use the database. He said it will allow his office to verify the status of immigrants who are now U.S. citizens and eligible to vote.
“At this point the only people who will have registration canceled are those who say, ‘Please cancel my record, I’m not a citizen,’” Coolidge said.
State Democratic Party Chair Rick Palacio said in a statement he was worried that eligible voters could be disenfranchised.
“Even more troubling than the political affiliation of these people is the possibility that American citizens who are eligible to vote are being denied their right to do so,” Palacio said.
Gessler said last week that he was “heartened by the cooperation” of individuals who have either withdrawn their registration, or showed proof of citizenship. His office has not said how many people have withdrawn their registration, but are expected to release figures later this week.
Gessler’s office has said there will be hearings for people who don’t respond to letters before officials take any action on their registration. Gessler plans a public meeting Wednesday to discuss the process.
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