DENVER — Two legislative veterans are vying for votes to be Colorado’s next secretary of state, and it appears the winner will use that post to lobby lawmakers to address voting, election and campaign-finance issues.
Aurora Republican Mike Coffman served five years in the Colorado House and five in the Senate before being elected state treasurer in 1998.
Denver Democrat Ken Gordon served eight years in the House and is in his sixth year in the state Senate, where he serves as majority leader.
Both men have said it’s now too easy for people to initiate amendments to the Colorado Constitution, giving such measures a protected status that restricts the Legislature’s ability to make future adjustments that might be needed to clarify those measures or to address any problems those amendments cause.
Both Gordon and Coffman have criticized Gigi Dennis, the current secretary of state, for emergency campaign-finance rules she issued in August, including one that would require labor unions and other membership organizations to get individual members’ consent before channeling dues into “small donor” committees that then spend that money to benefit candidates or political causes.
Coffman has said he agrees philosophically with that rule but objects to Dennis issuing it so late in the election campaign year. He’s also questioned whether Dennis had the power to issue the rule or should have left the policy up to lawmakers.
Gordon has criticized the rule itself, saying it unfairly discriminates against labor unions and doesn’t impose similar requirements for shareholders’ consent before corporations spend money on political causes.
He says the Legislature itself rejected a member-consent measure several years ago, and he has complained that Dennis, a Republican, issued the rule at the behest of GOP attorneys.
Both Gordon and Coffman have expressed alarm about questions that have arisen over some of the kinds of electronic voting machines that Dennis’ staff certified for use in this year’s election, and whether those machines are secure and tamper-proof.
One of the sharper differences that’s emerged between the two candidates is over the issue of whether state law should require certain forms of government-issued photo identification, verifying U.S. citizenship, when people register to vote or attempt to cast ballots.
Coffman said that if he’s elected, “I will propose legislation that requires that a government-issued photo ID card be submitted when a citizen registers to vote.
“If a citizen wants to register to vote and doesn’t have a government-issued photo ID, then one will be given at no charge,” Coffman said of his idea, which would require that the Legislature adopt a new law.
Gordon says his own efforts against potential voting fraud have included a new law that makes it a felony crime for anyone to vote when that person doesn’t have the legal right to do so.
But Gordon has said he doesn’t want voter-registration and voter-identification laws made so stringent that they’d discriminate against anyone who can’t readily come up with the documents to get a government-issued photo ID — measures he said could “stop American citizens from voting.”
Both men, meanwhile, have said they’d use the secretary of state’s office to try to get more Coloradans to participate in elections.
Only about 50 percent of Colorado’s active registered voters typically cast ballots in a given election, Gordon said.
He argued that if only “half the people vote, you live in half of a democracy,” because the candidates elected and issues decided are less likely to represent the values held by a majority of Coloradans.
Coffman lamented what he said is a lack of civics education in the schools about the importance of elections and voting, and he said he’d work to remedy that.
He said he’s running to be secretary of state “because I believe that the right to vote is the most sacred right of all of the freedoms bestowed upon Americans.”