DENVER – Colorado’s secretary of state office says it mistakenly sent postcards to about 30,000 noncitizens encouraging them to register to vote, blaming the error on a database glitch related to the state's list of residents with driver's licenses.
The office of Democratic Secretary of State Jena Griswold insisted none of the noncitizens will be allowed to register to vote if they try.
The news comes at a time of widespread skepticism — often unfounded — of voting integrity following the 2020 presidential election and as Griswold, who has touted her role as a national advocate for secure elections, seeks reelection in the November midterms.
Colorado’s Republican Party chair, Kristi Burton Brown, condemned Griswold for the error, saying in a Monday statement that “Jena Griswold continues to make easily avoidable errors just before ballots go out" by mail on Oct. 17.
Griswold faces Republican Pam Anderson, a former suburban Denver clerk and head of the state's county clerks association, who is a staunch advocate of Colorado's all-mail voting system.
Griswold’s office said in a statement that the postcards were mailed Sept. 27. The error happened after department employees compared a list of names of 102,000 people provided by the Electronic Registration Information Center, a bipartisan, multistate organization devoted to voter registration, to a database of Colorado residents issued driver’s licenses.
That Department of Revenue driver's license list includes residents issued special licenses for people who are not U.S. citizens. But it didn't include formatting information that normally would have allowed the Department of State to eliminate those names before the mailers went out, Griswold’s office said Monday.
The incident is under investigation, it said. Colorado Public Radio News first reported the error.
Colorado is among at least 18 states, along with the District of Columbia, that issue driver’s licenses to non-U.S. citizens, according to the National Council on State Legislatures. Colorado also automatically registers eligible voters when they obtain their driver's license from the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Griswold’s office said it was unaware that anyone who received the postcards in error had tried to register.
It is sending notices to the roughly 30,000 people who aren’t citizens but who mistakenly received the postcards. And it is applying several efforts to prevent or reject anyone not eligible to vote from registering, including comparing Social Security Numbers required for each application, on a daily basis. County clerks also will refer suspect cases to local district attorneys for review.
Sean Morales-Doyle, director of the Voting Rights Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, said the fact that the mistake was caught shows the system is working.
“It should show, first of all, that mistakes can happen, but secondly that there are checks in place to make sure mistakes don’t result in disaster,” Morales-Doyle said. “It's not good this happened. It appears to be a case of human error and a database error and not some conspiracy, which I think some critics would seize on.”
Morales-Doyle said there have been very few incidents of noncitizens attempting to register in the U.S. because the consequences are so severe — up to and including deportation.
The Electronic Registration Information Center, known as ERIC, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving U.S. voter rolls and encouraging registrations. Some 33 states and the District of Colombia belong to the group. Under its contract with ERIC, Colorado sends a mailing to eligible residents encouraging them to register each election cycle.
The Colorado postcards, in English and Spanish, specify that residents must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years old to register. They tell recipients how to register but are not a registration form.
This story has been corrected to show the postcards were mailed Sept. 27, not Sept. 7.