Thousands of Colorado residents who had been scratched from voter registration rolls will be allowed to cast ballots on Election Day and their votes will be given special protection to ensure they are counted, following the resolution of a federal lawsuit filed against the state.
Colorado Common Cause and other groups alleged in a lawsuit filed last week that the state illegally removed an estimated 27,000 people from the voter list during the 90 days leading up to the August primary.
The groups argued that federal law prohibits any systematic removal of names from voter rolls within 90 days of an election with three exceptions: voters who have been convicted of a felony, have died or have requested removal.
Lawyers for the Colorado attorney general's office countered that the names were removed to correct voter registration records, in some cases because the voter had moved or was registered more than once. No eligible voter would be denied the right to vote, they said.
Under an agreement reached by both sides late Wednesday, the state will generate a list of voters whose registrations were canceled before the August primary. Those voters will have to cast provisional ballots on Election Day, but their ballots must be counted unless election officials can prove the voters were ineligible.
Many states typically require those who cast provisional ballots to later provide proof of eligibility. The Colorado agreement places the burden of proof on state election officials.
"We believe the settlement protects the voters of Colorado, and that was our mission," said Penda Hair, one of the attorneys representing the groups that sued.
Secretary of State Mike Coffman, whose office purged the voters from the registration rolls, maintained that the removals conformed with federal law.
U.S. District Judge John Kane gave both sides of the lawsuit a chance to reach the agreement after listening to about five hours of testimony Wednesday. He told lawyers he thought there were circumstances in which the state was "out of bounds" in purging voters but that he didn't want to impose any changes that could result in long lines and other problems at the polls next week.
Michigan Voters Also Win Ruling
In Michigan, a federal appeals court handed a similar victory to 5,500 people who had been thrown off the voter registration rolls.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Thursday that state election officials should not remove registered voters from the rolls, even if their voter ID cards were returned as undeliverable.
In a 2-1 ruling, the Cincinnati-based court said Michigan voters are properly registered when applications are approved and names are added to the rolls - not if they receive a card in the mail.
The court said poll workers still can require people to show proof of residency when they ask for a ballot Tuesday.
The case involves 5,500 people who have registered since January 2006, just a fraction of the state's 7.47 million voters.
The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the United States Student Association Foundation and the Michigan branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.