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Opinion Columns

Opinion: Colorado’s voter-registration system is a model of accessibility for the country

The proof is in the turnout rate, which few states can match

When it comes to policies related to voter access and election modernization, our country is, unfortunately, divided.

Pam Anderson, left, and Molly Fitzpatrick

Currently in Washington D.C., bills designed to expand voting rights are making their way through Congress. Meanwhile, in the past few months alone, a number of states have veered in the opposite direction, pursuing legislation that severely restricts access to the ballot box by limiting the number of early voting days and clamping down on the use of mail-in ballots, among other draconian measures.

As the national debate rages on, Colorado remains the gold-standard for accessible and secure elections in this country. In 2020, Colorado had one of the highest voter-turnout rates in the nation by utilizing a variety of different voting options, including vote-by-mail for all, hundreds of drop box locations, early voting, in-person vote centers, and guaranteed vote centers and drop boxes on all tribal lands and public colleges.

Critical to keeping Colorado as our nation’s leader when it comes to voter participation and election security is our state’s automatic voter-registration system. Just over a year ago, a new automatic voter-registration system became fully operational in our state, and it’s already helping to ensure that every eligible voter in Colorado, Republican, Democrat, or unaffiliated, has their voice heard in our elections, while keeping voter rolls updated.

Why is our automatic voter-registration system so effective?

It ensures that every eligible voter who wants to vote in our state gets registered. To get registered or update a voter registration, all an eligible voter needs to do is interact with a state agency, such as a motor vehicle office, which already collects much of the information necessary for voter registration like citizenship status, address, name, and age.

The names and addresses of eligible voters are then sent to election officials, who verify and update the individual’s voting record. Any previously unregistered eligible voter then will be notified by mail that they will be registered, and will be offered an opportunity to opt out of registration, or to select a political party. This ensures that only eligible voters who do not decline registration are added to voter rolls.

From beginning to end, the entire process is safe, secure and efficient — and it registers more voters. Since this updated back-end system became fully operational, more than 250,000 Coloradans were registered to vote for the first time. Despite the impact of the pandemic, new registrants increased by more than 30% in the first 5 months of 2021 under the new system. These exciting results mean more Coloradans are registered to vote and are able to participate in our democratic process.

Not only is our automatic voter-registration system the most effective in registering eligible voters, it’s more efficient.

It improves efficiency at state agencies by reducing transaction time and simplifies the voter-registration process for voters. It guarantees up-to-date voter information, allowing election offices to ensure that all eligible citizens can securely cast their ballot without obstruction in each election. It eliminates duplicate records, which makes voting systems simpler to manage and more secure for voters. And because the data is updated every time a voter interacts with a government agency, Coloradans can move or change their name without the need to re-register.

Our new system also has been a major cost saver for Colorado’s taxpayers. Nationwide, tens of millions of paper registrations are processed every year, each costing on average $4.72. By contrast, it costs only 3 cents to securely process an automatic voter registration. 

Finally, better address data from the DMV minimizes undeliverable election mail, including mail ballots, reducing unnecessary postage and printing costs. As a result, our cost-efficient system already has saved state and county election officials millions of dollars.

A lot of effort goes into a system that is simple for the voter and operates efficiently, and we cannot take our election processes for granted. While Colorado may be at the forefront of election modernization in the U.S., we still have room to grow and are committed to continuous improvement.

For example, we must continue to pursue targeted expansion of automatic voter registration to agencies beyond the DMV, which would help election officials reach communities who do not drive or own motor vehicles.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

With the right agencies implementing automated voter registration, we can ensure all eligible Coloradoans are registered to vote and that our voter rolls are accurate. Despite the machinations of other states to curtail voting access, the success of our automatic voter-registration system demonstrates how critical it is that we continue to pursue mechanisms which will ensure safe, secure, and accessible elections for all Coloradans.

Our system is showing the rest of America how to run elections right. We’re hopeful that the nation is paying attention. 


Pam Anderson, of Wheat Ridge, is the former Jefferson County clerk and recorder and former executive director of the Colorado County Clerks Association. Molly Fitzpatrick, of  Boulder, is Boulder County clerk and recorder. 



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