Federal judge rails at Secretary of State Coffman to stop purges
Friday, October 31, 2008 at 4:22 pm
A federal judge took a swipe at an “obdurate” Secretary of State Mike Coffman this afternoon by ordering Colorado’s top election official to stop violating federal law by purging voters.
The Advancement Project, a voter protection organization, filed suitagainst Coffman late last week for canceling as many 30,000 voters within 90 days of the federal election, a breach of the National Voter Registration Act. Coffman’s office settled with the Advancement Project late Wednesday evening, agreeing to let purged individuals vote by provisional ballot. But he has removed an additional 146 voters from the rolls since then.
The Advancement Project hauled Coffman back to court this afternoon after the secretary told the Rocky Mountain News that he was still purging voters. “The process is continuing” he said, adding that the plaintiffs, which included Colorado Common Cause, Mi Familia Vota and the Service Employees International Union, “did not prevail . . . in stopping us from moving forward with additional cancellation through this election.”
Not so fast, said U.S. District Court Judge John Kane this afternoon. He demanded that Coffman “cease and stop” purging voters immediately.
“I don’t think there is anything deliberate about this, but possibly something obdurate about the secretary’s comments” in the Rocky Mountain News, Kane said.
Jessie Allen, senior attorney with the Advancement Project, said she was “concerned that the defendant may not listen to his counsel” and continue canceling voters just days before the election.
“If the defendant is not listening to his counsel, he will be listening to me personally,” said Kane. “I don’t issue threats idly and I am not issuing a threat now. But I expect [the order] to be obeyed.”
Kane also told Coffman’s counsel, Deputy Attorney General Maurice Knaizer, to look into reinstating the 146 voters who have been purged in the last day and a half.
Jenny Flanagan, director of Colorado Common Cause, called today’s ruling “necessary and critical to protect our election.” She saidthe plaintiffs feared that Coffman might conduct mass purges before the election.
According to the initial complaint, the Colorado Republican Party requested an additional 17,000 duplicate registration records purged just last week. Even though Coffman told the Rocky Mountain News that he won’t do it because the election is too soon, today’s order has put those concerns to rest completely.
“You have Coffman grandstanding in the media, saying he is going to do whatever he wants anyway,” says Flanagan. “That is the outrageous part. We were concerned that Coffman would continue to ignore what the court was ordering and the protection that the voters were afforded.”
The Wednesday settlement — reached after eight hours of deliberation — allows purged individuals to vote by provisional ballot. These provisional ballots will be verified and counted before others in the two weeks after the election. Counties must “presume” these voters eligible or provide convincing proof that they are not in order to toss their ballots.
The secretary of state’s office cancels voters for many different reasons. Some newly registered voters are kicked off because the county can’t verify their addresses when registration cards bounce back to the clerks. Others are deleted because they have moved. And duplicate registrations are canceled as well.
But under federal law, the secretary of state is prohibited from removing voters within 90 days of an election unless that person has requested to be taken off, has died or has been convicted of a felony.