BOULDER, Colo. – It’s a swing state that could decide the election.
But could Colorado be the new Florida?
There are plenty of rumblings here that should – and do – give pause.
Citizen activists are challenging ballots being used in several counties, saying that bar codes allow them to be traced back to voters.
Because of a strong third-party showing by American Constitution Party candidate Tom Tancredo in the 2010 governor’s race, that party may appoint people to county canvassing boards. In Boulder County, which is heavily Democratic, the canvassing board is now dominated by a coalition of Republicans and American Constitution Party appointees. They’ve been meeting ahead of the election without the county clerk – or her approval.
On Tuesday, the final day of voter registration in the state, the Secretary of State’s Web site crashed repeatedly, potentially leaving some would-be-voters out in the cold. Last month, the office noted that its mobile registration site hadn’t worked properly for several days.
Monday, the Colorado County Clerk’s Association sent a long list of complaints to Scott Gessler, the Republican secretary of state overseeing his first statewide election. They cited emergency rules, the voter registration foul-ups and an overseas voting method that might allow virtually anyone to download a ballot and vote.
Meanwhile, Gessler has been busy encouraging True the Vote, a group with tea party origins aiming to monitor polls on Nov. 6. Some say the group challenges mostly Democratic voters, particularly minorities.
A week ago, Gessler sat on a panel for the Conservative Political Action Conference with representatives of True the Vote and slammed the left for encouraging voter fraud. At the Republican National Convention in August, Gessler encouraged the Colorado delegation to work with True the Vote , according to the Durango Herald. The Coloradoan of Fort Collins is reporting that the secretary of state used public funds for some of his costs for the RNC and other political trips.
Is this swing state, where President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney are running neck-and-neck, destined to repeat the 2000 election debacle?
“I think we ought to be somewhat worried,” said John Straayer, a Colorado State University political science professor and longtime political observer. “It will be clearer after we get through this particular election cycle.”
There are often conspiracy theorists who watchdog elections, Straayer said. But Colorado hasn’t seen the sort of unrest at the secretary of state’s level, which was criticized in a Denver Post editorial Tuesday.
”I’ve certainly never seen anything to rival his partisanship in that particular office,” Straayer said.
Donetta Davidson, the executive director of the county clerk’s association, said Gessler has agreed to meet with her group.
”I don’t think that will hurt in the election results,” she said. “We just want better communication… He’s agreed to sit down with us.”
A Republican, Davidson served as a clerk in two different Colorado counties, then was secretary of state from 1999 to 2005, when she was appointed to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. She oversaw two presidential elections as secretary of state, but never attended a Republican National Convention while on the job.
“If we have a close election, we’ll handle that,” she said.
Davidson wouldn’t discuss Gessler’s encouragement of True the Vote. But Straayer said the letter from the clerk’s association, sent by Davidson, should cause concern.
“Good heavens, the former secretary of state, and one in high regard,” he said. ”That gives it all the more credibility in challenging Gessler’s neutrally and competence.”
A close Colorado election could be awkward – each of the state’s 64 counties tallies votes individually, so it can be difficult to get an initial statewide read on results if something goes wrong in a significant county. The state has nine electoral votes and is considered a toss-up on the Post’s electoral map.
“You’d probably have judges working overtime,” Straayer said of a too-close-to-call Colorado vote that held the presidency in the balance. ”It’s going to be Florida all over again with everybody mobilizing on every side.”
Editor’s note: This post should have included reaction from the Colorado Secretary of State, Scott Gessler, whose spokesman has said they heard from county clerks who did not support or agree with the association’s letter. He also said Gessler has encouraged involvement with groups including the League of Women Voters and Common Cause, as well as True the Vote.
Sandra Fish teaches journalism at the University of Colorado and has reported on politics in Iowa, Florida and Colorado. Follow her on Twitter at @fishnette