A man votes at the Denver Elections Division Tuesday Nov. 8, 2016.
Coloradans are canceling their voter registrations by the hundreds in the wake of the Trump administration’s blanket request for voter information earlier this month, alarming county elections officials who say they’ve never seen such a surge of withdrawals in their careers.
The withdrawals represent only a small fraction of the state’s 3.3 million active registered voters, but officials say the trend is clear, nonetheless — particularly in the Democrat-heavy metro area.
Nearly two weeks have elapsed since the commission requested all of the state’s publicly available voter data, and state and county elections offices say they’re still being flooded with calls and emails from voters with two chief complaints: they don’t trust President Donald Trump’s voter integrity commission, and they didn’t realize just how much of their voter registration information was already public under state law.
Trump established the advisory commission in May with a broad mandate: a sweeping review of U.S. election integrity, with a focus on voter fraud, voter suppression and other “vulnerabilities.” But the effort has been clouded by partisanship and distrust from the start — in no small part because the order came after Trump alleged without evidence that as many as 5 million people voted illegally in his 2016 election victory against Hillary Clinton.
“People are concerned and confused about all of this,” said Amber McReynolds, Denver’s elections director. “We have the same concerns. At this point nobody really knows what (the commission) is doing.”
On Monday, the election integrity commission told the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office not to send the information this week as initially requested, because there’s a lawsuit pending in federal court that seeks a temporary restraining order against the data’s release. But because the data is public, such an effort is a long shot to succeed, and the commission has shown no sign of abandoning the effort.
It’s not clear how many voters have withdrawn across the state since the commission’s request became public earlier this month. The Colorado Secretary of State’s Office referred The Denver Post to the county level for information on how many people have withdrawn. And for many local elections officials, it’s not a statistic they have typically tracked — until now.
As of Tuesday in Denver, at least 472 people had canceled their voter registrations since July 3 — a staggering jump from the 20 people who did so over the previous two weeks, according to the Denver elections division.
In Boulder County, the trend was much the same: 125 voters withdrew their registrations the first 10 days of July, according to the clerk’s office. During the same period in June, only 15 people did.
The bulk of those who called or emailed either cited concerns about the commission’s motives, or about their own privacy.
“It seems like an assault on our personal freedoms — of speech and privacy first and foremost,” one Denver voter wrote.
The outcry over personal information that’s been publicly available for decades has some wondering if state lawmakers will seek to close some of these records to the public next year, after a lengthy fight the last two sessions over making more public information available in a digital format.
“I think it brings up a whole ‘nother question for the legislature that they may want to consider,” McReynolds said. “Voters did not and have not been aware that this info that’s being provided is public.”
Under Colorado law, a wide range of voter information is publicly available by request, including a voter’s name, address, party affiliation and which elections they’ve voted in — though not the candidate they voted for. More than 100 organizations and individuals — including media outlets, marketing firms and both major political parties obtained the data in 2016 alone, according to the secretary of state’s office.
Some entities have even published the data online for all to see.
Colorado’s not unusual in making this information public. The amount of data that’s available varies from state to state, but voter records are widely considered public for a simple reason: to make sure elections are conducted honestly.
“Without voter registration and vote history being public there would be no way for any outside individual or organization to independently verify our election processes,” Boulder County Clerk Hillary Hall wrote in an op-ed to the Daily Camera. “It would simply have to be a ‘trust us’ scenario with your state or local elected official maintaining the voter rolls with no external oversight.”
Jeff Roberts, the executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, notes that much of the information, such as a voter’s address, has long been publicly available in other ways, such as property records.
“It’s been out there for a long time. Is there potential for use and misuse? Of course — with any information there is,” Roberts said. But because the data is essential to verifying elections, he added, “if (lawmakers) are going to examine this, they better have good reasons to not make it public.”