(Apr. 22) – The House gave preliminary approval to the Colorado Votes Act (COVA), a bill to expand access to voting and minimize long lines on Election Day. Colorado is a national role model for secure, accessible and fair elections, and this bill will expand upon the state’s successful model.
“Colorado’s election systems are some of the best in the country, but we still have work to do to ensure we are giving every Colorado the access they deserve to participate in our democracy,” said Rep. Susan Lontine, D-Denver. “We must continue to break down barriers that prevent all Coloradans from voting and this bill is a step in that direction. I’m proud of the stakeholder work we conducted with the county clerks.”
Of the voters who used VSPCs to cast their vote in 2018, 18 percent were first time registrants and additional 20 percent needed to update their registration. In other words, these voters didn’t receive a mail ballot or have the option to vote by mail or drop-off and had to rely on in-person service. In-person voters are more likely to be from underserved or marginalized communities. In 2018, an estimated 18 percent of in-person voters were people of color and nearly half were under 35 years old.
In 2013, Colorado passed election reform that created formulas for the number of voter service and polling centers (VSPCs) by active voters, and gave voters in-person services for voting, ballot replacement, same day registration and updating their voter information, such as their addresses. COVA adjusts the formulas based on actual voter behavior since 2013, updating the VSCPS and voter drop box formulas to increase access to the ballot closer to Election Day, decrease VSPC requirements during the under-utilized early voting period, and increase resources for Election Day voting.
Colorado’s smaller counties are largely unaffected by these changes. On Election Day, which are common in the larger Colorado counties, long lines have proven to be a deterrent to voting. In 2018, self-reported wait times by counties for Election Day was more than 30 minutes in the state’s biggest counties: Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Denver, El Paso, Jefferson, Larimer, Mesa and Weld. This bill would increase the amount of drop boxes which are more popular in larger counties according to voter data.
Here’s what the Colorado Votes Act does:
- COVA creates a new tier for the largest Colorado counties (Tier 0) to deal with longer lines in urban populations and college/university VSPCs, where there are traditionally long lines on Election Day.
- Creates three phases of VSPCs to be open: early voting (first week through Thursday of the second week) when services are least utilized, final weekend (final Friday and Saturday in the largest counties and Friday, Saturday and Monday everywhere else) when we see a measurable increase in voters using in-person services, and Election Day (includes final Monday for largest counties) when utilization is at its peak.
- Encourages public buildings, particularly on college and university campuses to make space available to the counties for VSPCs. Counties have increasing challenges in getting adequate space for VSPCs, particularly in higher education buildings. Larger campuses would also have to have a drop box for ballots.
- Increases voting hours on Election Day from 7 a.m. – 8 p.m. Allows district court to extend voting hours if there are issues at particular polling places that have interrupted access such as weather, technological problems, equipment failure, supply shortages, voter suppression activity, or other circumstance.