Important Ruling Places Onus On Elections Officials to Prove Voter Ineligibility...
By Desi Doyen on 11/2/2008, 3:31pm PT  

Guest blogged by DES

Late last week, a federal court spanked Colorado's Republican Secretary of State, Mike Coffman, ordering him to restore tens of thousands of registered voters to the state's voting rolls and allow them to vote, requiring that officials count those ballots, and --- perhaps most importantly --- placing the onus on elections officials to justify the removal of voters from the rolls, rather than forcing the voters to prove they are who they say they are...

Ian Urbina of The New York Times spells it out:

DENVER - Tens of thousands of Coloradans who had been removed from the state's voter rolls will be allowed to vote in next week's election and given extra protections so their ballots are counted, under an agreement reached late Wednesday in federal court here.

The voters' names had been removed by Mike Coffman, the Colorado secretary of state, who said he did so because the voters had moved out of state or were listed more than once on the rolls. But Mr. Coffman was sued by a coalition of voting rights and other groups who said such purges were generally prohibited by federal law within 90 days of an election.

Under the agreement, voters removed from the rolls will be permitted to cast provisional ballots, and those ballots will be counted unless election officials can prove the voters were not eligible. To strike such ballots, county election officials must conduct an extensive records review on each one, a decision that must then be reviewed by Mr. Coffman's office.

"This is unprecedented," said Elizabeth Westfall, a lawyer for the Advancement Project, a civil rights group that helped file the lawsuit. "We are really thrilled that there will be this degree of unprecedented scrutiny and protection for these purged voters when they cast their provisional ballots."
Edward B. Foley, a law professor at Ohio State University and an authority on voting litigation nationwide, said the settlement was noteworthy because many states had put the onus on voters to prove that their provisional ballots were legitimate before they could be counted. The settlement shifts this responsibility to the state, Mr. Foley said, and is more in keeping with the spirit of the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002, which calls for election officials to count a provisional ballot if they can determine the voter's eligibility. [emphasis added]

But now it appears that Coffman --- who, as chief elections officer in the state is simultaneously presiding over his own race for the U.S. House seat vacated by the retiring Tom Tancredo --- in defiance of the court's order is apparently still purging voters from the rolls.

According to the Rocky Mountain News, Federal judge John Kane issued a cease-and-desist order in an emergency court hearing today (h/t TPM Muckraker):

Federal judge John Kane demanded Colorado Secretary of State Mike Coffman stop canceling voters from the state registration rolls amid an emergency court hearing this afternoon.

"There has been a violation of federal law, and that must cease and stop immediately," Kane said from the bench. "That is the order."
Coffman had told the newspaper that a court-approved agreement worked out this week still allowed him to remove voters from the state rolls when he found duplicate names, people who moved or deceased voters.

"The process is continuing," he told the Rocky on Thursday. The plaintiffs, he said "did not prevail ... in stopping us from moving forward with additional cancellation through this election."
"If the defendant [SoS Coffman] doesn't listen to his counsel, he's going to be listening to me personally," Kane said. "I don't issue threats idly, and I'm not issuing one now. … I expect to be obeyed."

In a statement issued after the ruling, Coffman maintained his office was "in full compliance" with the original order. But he said he would comply with today's ruling.

In an earlier story, The New York Times estimated 37,000 people were purged from Colorado's voter rolls in the three weeks after July 21 of this year.

The BRAD BLOG covers your electoral system, fiercely and independently, like no other media outlet in the nation. Please support our work with a donation to help us keep going. If you like, we'll send you some great election integrity documentary films in return. Details on that right here...