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Defending the Right to Vote in Denver

Although she faced a lawsuit from Colorado’s Secretary of State, City and County Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson stood by her decision to send ballots to inactive voters in November’s elections.

McCory James
Last year, Denver’s city and county clerk and recorder made what seemed like an innocuous decision to send ballots for November’s election to “inactive” voters -- those who did not vote in the 2010 general election or any election since. But to Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler, Debra Johnson’s decision was at odds with state law.

Gessler, who asked the court to stop Johnson with a preliminary injunction, argued at the time that it was against the law and would open the door to fraud. A state law that specifically directed Johnson and other clerks to send ballots to inactive voters had expired. Nevertheless, the court refused to issue an injunction, allowing Johnson to mail ballots to more than 50,000 inactive voters. After the ruling, Gessler said he would continue the lawsuit.

Johnson, who previously served as city clerk in Aurora, a suburb of Denver, counters that she was simply following a precedent set by the clerks who came before her and that she believes her office has the responsibility to provide as many voters as possible with an opportunity to participate in the democratic process.

“I’m an elected official just like he is,” Johnson says. “I answer to a part of the same population that elected him. My concern is if the secretary of state can start dictating what county clerks do, he’s pretty much going to run the elections.”

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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