Gessler defends controversial actions

Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler addresses local concerns about the upcoming Nov. 6 election at a public meeting on Aug. 13 in Cripple Creek. Because of concerns about the county’s election process, his office sent two staff members to work with the Teller County Clerk’s office on the June 26 primary. On election night, there was also an independent observer. Photo by Norma Engelberg
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Scott Gessler took advantage of a low-key Littleton Rotary meeting to defend recent actions that have made him a controversial figure, with the Washington Post even saying he might be the most closely watched secretary of state in the country.

Gessler, a Republican, has critics who say he is trying to suppress the right to vote, particularly for minorities who might be more likely to vote Democratic. He says he's just trying to make sure every vote counts.

“We want to make it easy to vote but tough to cheat,” he told the Rotarians. “Every one vote dilutes a vote by someone else, so I have a very low tolerance for that.”

He's currently embroiled in lawsuits over mailing ballots to voters who missed the last major election (he's opposed) and his attempts to loosen campaign-finance laws. And while his opponents might argue for online voting, Gessler is a strong advocate for requiring voters to present a photo ID. He says it would boost participation, because people could be assured their vote counts.

“I think it is something we need. I think it's a vulnerability,” he said.

Perhaps most notably, Gessler undertook a major effort to purge voter rolls of non-citizens, even obtaining Homeland Security documents to compare them to. His office found about 141 names that are questionable, 35 of whom had recently voted.

Gessler has given up on finalizing that project for this year, saying the federal government took too long to comply with his request to sort it out before the election. He says he's actually trying to do those people a favor, because anyone caught voting illegally loses the right to vote at all.

“You want to make it tough to cheat, but also you don't want people to make mistakes and vote erroneously,” he said. Recent immigrants might wrongly assume voting will help them gain citizenship, he said, or those with permanent-resident status might think they can vote — which is not the case.

Asked how he thought his office would handle the November election, Gessler said he and his staff are ready.

“Is it going to be close? I don't know,” he said. “We have a history of very close races in Colorado, but not in presidential elections. Colorado has been a swing state, but it usually swings pretty strongly.”

Speaking of his staff, the two who joined him at the luncheon have strong ties to Littleton. Communnications and policy adviser Andrew Cole sits on the city's licensing authority, and Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert was formerly the city attorney.

“I just wanted to thank the city for firing her so I could hire her,” Gessler joked.