A ballot box stands outside the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library on Welton Street in Denver on June 17, 2020. (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline)
Many Republicans since November have demonstrated that they have little interest in democracy and would rather obliterate voting rights than lose elections.
They started by rejecting President Joe Biden’s defeat of former President Donald Trump. In doing so they helped fuel a violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on the day members of Congress certified electoral results.
Then, Republicans in various states engaged in voter suppression by passing flagrantly anti-democratic legislation. They justified these odious bills as “election integrity” measures when in fact they saw the integrity of the 2020 election as the very problem. They fear broad access to the ballot because majorities tend to vote them out of power. They think it’s better to enact “big lie” laws that restrict the franchise, especially for underprivileged people and communities of color.
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These efforts succeeded in some states with GOP majorities, and it’s tempting in Colorado, where Democrats control the Legislature and the governor’s office, to assume that the state is safe from such threats.
This is a mistake.
Enemies of democracy are active and influential in Colorado. Defenders of ballot access so far have blunted their efforts. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t present. It doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous. And it doesn’t mean that constant vigilance isn’t critical to avoid erosion of essential rights.
The Georgia General Assembly enacted one of the most notorious and restrictive new voting laws. Among other noxious provisions, the law, adopted in March, reduced the time to request absentee ballots, imposed strict ID requirements for absentee ballots, drastically reduced the number of drop boxes, criminalized offering food or water to voters in line, and empowered the Republican legislature to suspend county election officials.
Similarly restrictive legislation has been enacted in such states as Florida, Iowa, Arkansas and Montana. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, “Overall, lawmakers have introduced at least 389 restrictive bills in 48 states in the 2021 legislative sessions.”
This includes Colorado.
Sen. Paul Lundeen introduced the most outrageous election bill this year in the Colorado Legislature. Though Colorado is famous for its gold-standard election system and widespread use of mail-in ballots, Senate Bill 21-7 would have drastically reduced mail-in voting. It also would have limited the number of early-voting days in the state and required election officials to complete ballot-counting on the day of the election.
Lundeen’s bill, paradoxically known as “Improve Public Confidence Election Validity,” was hardly the only GOP assault on Colorado’s celebrated election systems. Republican lawmakers also tried to add signature verification restrictions to address a virtually nonexistent problem, allow any voter to demand a recount, create a committee to examine the “integrity” of electronic voting systems, create a commission to examine “election integrity and voter accuracy,” increase proof of citizenship requirements and establish annual audits of the voter rolls — all with an intent “to undermine confidence and suppress the votes of Coloradans,” as Jena Griswold, the secretary of state, put it.
Colorado elections might have escaped actual damage during the legislative session, but the road ahead is treacherous. A proposed ballot initiative, denied on a technicality by the Title Board this month, would have eliminated universal mail-in voting in Colorado. Prominent Republicans in the state have made it abundantly clear that they don’t believe in fair elections. Freshman U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, the face of Colorado Republicans, is nationally known as an ally of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists. The two other Republicans from Colorado in the U.S. House, Ken Buck and Doug Lamborn, have each helped promote the false belief that the November election was fraudulent. The new chair of the Colorado GOP, Kristi Burton Brown, a one-time Boebert policy adviser, has baselessly said “there’s plenty of voter fraud across the nation.” State Rep. Ron Hanks, who was present at the Jan. 6 insurrection, got a tour this week of the Arizona election audit, which, outside conspiracy circles, is widely understood to be a sham.
The only difference between Colorado and Arizona, Georgia and other states where the GOP wields power is that a Democratic majority in Colorado has served as a firewall. But that’s cold comfort. How long can that bulwark hold against such a determined, irrational foe?
Defenders of ballot access in the state are like a vaccine against a virus. A vaccine might at first be effective, but viruses mutate and find new ways to infect the body. Democrats so far have protected Colorado from the GOP disease of election lies and voter suppression, but as long as Republicans spread misinformation and attempt to prevent people from exercising their right to vote the specter of illness remains.
Eradication of the threat must be the ultimate goal.
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