Voting rights resolution passes state House, Senate over GOP protests

Failed amendment called for ‘full, forensic audit’ of 2020 election

By: - January 19, 2022 5:00 am

Voters got to the polls at the Arapahoe County Government Administration building in Littleton, on Nov. 3, 2020. (Carl Payne for Colorado Newsline)

Over protests from Republicans, the state Senate and House of Representatives each passed a resolution urging Congress to pass voting rights legislation and reaffirming that the 2020 presidential election was valid.

Senate Memorial 22-1 was sponsored by Sens. James Coleman and Julie Gonzales, both Democrats from Denver. The resolution passed on a vote of 20-13, with Sen. Kevin Priola, a Brighton Republican, the sole member of his caucus to support it. In the House, Democratic Reps. Tony Exum of Colorado Springs and Kerry Tipper of Lakewood were sponsors of House Resolution 22-1004, a nearly identical measure that passed along party lines.

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“Falsehoods and conspiracies regarding the integrity of the 2020 election have run rampant in our media and public discourse,” part of the resolution read. “The months-long, coordinated attempt to interfere with the democratic process following the November 2020 election and prevent the peaceful transfer of power by overturning the legitimate results of the presidential election, which culminated at the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021, serves as a violent reminder of the fragility of our democracy.”

The text referred to attempts by former President Donald Trump to overturn the results of the 2020 election that favored now-President Joe Biden.

Voting rights took the national spotlight over Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend as community organizers pushed the U.S. Senate to change its rules to end the filibuster, a tool that allows the minority party to effectively block legislation without a 60-vote majority.

Democrats and Republicans are tied 50-50 in the U.S. Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris able to cast the tie-breaking vote on budget-related bills — but without the ability for Democrats to pass legislation such as the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act unless it has the support from everyone in their party and at least 10 Republicans.

Voting rights advocates say the federal legislation is necessary to preserve access to the polls in states that passed restrictive voting laws, responding to Trump’s false claims that the presidency was stolen from him through widespread fraud. Trump and his supporters have failed to produce any evidence supporting this conclusion, and lawsuits seeking to overturn election results have been rejected by most courts of law.

Changing the rules to eliminate the filibuster would require the support of all 50 Democrats, and at least two — Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — have indicated they would not support such a rule change, despite pleas from President Joe Biden.

Bitter partisan divide

Colorado lawmakers’ resolution, passed Tuesday, won’t change anything on the national level, but it sends a message that the Democratic-led state stands behind the movement to enshrine voting protections in federal law. It also offered an opportunity for lawmakers from both parties to make impassioned speeches at the Capitol on the charged political issue.

Rep. James Coleman
Rep. James Coleman, D-Denver.

“The right to vote is sacred, and it is under attack,” Coleman said in urging his colleagues to support the resolution.

“It is fundamentally un-American to not support the rights of all citizens of this country to vote,” Rep. Alex Valdez, a Denver Democrat, said on the House floor.

King’s leadership, along with that of other civil rights figures, was critical in getting Congress to pass the original Voting Rights Act of 1965. The legislation banned states from imposing racially discriminatory barriers to voting, such as poll taxes and literacy tests.

The law had an immediate impact. At the time it was signed by then-President Lyndon Johnson, only about 5% of Black Mississippians were registered to vote. Two years later, 60% of Black Mississippians were registered.

Under the Voting Rights Act, states with fewer than half of eligible adults registered to vote, and that had used a strategy from the 1875 Mississippi Plan to prohibit Black people from participating in politics, had to get pre-clearance from the U.S. Department of Justice or federal courts before passing new restrictions on voting. But subsequent Supreme Court decisions in 2013 and 2018 basically dismantled the pre-clearance process.

Voting rights advocates say those Supreme Court decisions have allowed states such as Texas and Georgia to pass laws that disproportionately impact Black voters, Indigenous voters and other voters of color. The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act — both of which have already been passed by the U.S. House — would restore the pre-clearance process, if passed by the U.S. Senate. The legislation would also require states to expand voter registration and access to mail-in voting, and limit the purging of voter rolls, while making Election Day a federal holiday.

The voting rights discussion illuminated a bitter partisan divide in the Colorado General Assembly, as in the halls of Congress. Many Republicans say it’s wrong to equate the movement to pass the 1965 Voting Rights Act with the push to end the filibuster and pass new voting rights legislation. Likewise, they argue that the restrictions on voting access passed in at least 19 states last year don’t amount to racial discrimination.

Some made the argument that the proposed federal laws would take away states’ rights to hold their own elections.

“Regardless of your political affiliation, a federal takeover is not the answer to ensuring trust in our elections moving forward,” House Minority Leader Hugh McKean, of Loveland, said in a written statement.

Ron Hanks
Jean Canterbury of Custer County talks with state Rep. Ron Hanks during a rally organized by the Truth & Liberty Coalition in support of Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters on Dec. 1, 2021, in front of the old Mesa County courthouse in Grand Junction. (Sharon Sullivan for Colorado Newsline)

Along with urging Congress to pass voting rights legislation, the state-level resolution passed Tuesday declares that members of the Colorado House and Senate “reassert the validity of the 2020 presidential election results as legitimate and verified”; and “offer Colorado’s premier electoral system as a model for states across the country to adopt in order to increase voter participation while ensuring electoral integrity.”

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat, supported the resolution.

“Whether a voter is from Colorado or another state, a big city or rural community, they should have access to the ballot box,” Griswold said. “At this juncture in our nation’s history, we need every elected official to take a stand in defense of democracy, to safeguard elections, and to ensure that the will of the American people in choosing their representation in government is upheld for generations to come.”

Rep. Ron Hanks, a Republican from Cañon City who was present for the riot outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and has admitted to crossing police barriers, objected to the way the resolution characterized insurrectionists. On the House floor, Hanks said he was “very distressed by the broad brush that so many, hundreds of thousands, of Americans were painted by the wording of this.”

An amendment introduced by Hanks — which failed on a vote of 19 to 42, sought to “request a full forensic audit of the 2020 and 2021 elections in Colorado, and a review of the voter rolls for accuracy and updates” to be conducted by an independent contractor. Repeating unsubstantiated claims about the 2020 presidential election, Hanks’ amendment would have warned other states of “national security risks inherent with electronic voting systems, such as Dominion Voting Systems … which are not secure in any national security sense of the word.”

All but three of the Republicans present — McKean, Rep. Terri Carver of Colorado Springs and Rep. Colin Larson of Littleton — voted for Hanks’ amendment, while Democrats were unanimous in rejecting it.

Another amendment from Rep. Dave Williams, a Colorado Springs Republican, would have thanked Hanks and “the millions of other Americans who joined him on January 6, 2021 … to speak, peacefully assemble, and seek redress from their government in order to secure our elections and protect the sacred right of every lawful vote to be counted.”

Williams’ amendment was rejected on a vote of 44 to 16 — indicating support from two-thirds of House Republicans and no House Democrats.

The five GOP lawmakers who opposed the amendment ostensibly thanking pro-Trump protesters and insurrectionists: McKean, Carver, and Reps. Mary Bradfield of Colorado Springs, Colin Larson of Littleton and Mike Lynch of Wellington. House Assistant Minority Leader Tim Geitner of Falcon, Hanks and fellow Republican Rep. Kim Ransom of Lone Tree were excused for the vote along with Democratic Reps. Steven Woodrow of Denver and Matt Gray of Broomfield.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 3:40 p.m. Jan. 19, 2022, to correct the vote on Williams’ amendment thanking pro-Trump protesters and insurrectionists.

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Faith Miller
Faith Miller

Reporter Faith Miller covers the Colorado Legislature, immigration and other stories for Colorado Newsline.

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