Rocky article on GOP fears that Dem will become secretary of state omitted myriad problems under Republican Dennis

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The Rocky Mountain News on
November 5 reported state Republicans' concerns over "voter shenanigans and the possibility of loosened voter requirements" if a Democrat becomes Colorado Secretary of State, noting that Mike Coffman (R) has announced he will run for Congress. But the News failed to mention the controversies surrounding the actions of Coffman's Republican predecessor, Gigi Dennis.

In a November 5 article about the possibility of a Democrat becoming Colorado Secretary of State because of current officeholder Mike Coffman's (R) interest in running for Congress, the Rocky Mountain News reported GOP concerns about "voter shenanigans and the possibility of loosened voter requirements if a Democrat oversees the office." The article, by Lynn Bartels, further reported that state Republican Party chairman Dick Wadhams "said the secretary of state's office has become increasingly more important as elections have gotten more complex and controversial" and that "Colorado is still scrambling to implement" federal voting laws passed after the 2000 presidential election. However, the article failed to recount the controversies surrounding Coffman's predecessor, Republican Gigi Dennis.

As the News and other Colorado media widely reported, in addition to changing campaign finance rules at the behest of Republican Party figures just before the 2006 election, Dennis failed to adequately certify the security of the state's voting machines. Furthermore, despite reporting that former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris (R) "came under fire because she also served as George W. Bush's campaign chair for Florida" and that the Colorado legislature "later passed a law forbidding secretaries of states (sic) from holding such positions," the News on November 5 did not note its previous reporting that in 2006 Dennis co-chaired a fundraiser for Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez.

As the News reported, "The former state election director is stunned at Republican hand-wringing over the possibility that a Democrat might take over as secretary of state." The article continued:

Republicans say they fear voter shenanigans and the possibility of loosened voter requirements if a Democrat oversees the office, which has been held by Republicans for decades.

"It's political fear-mongering from a bunch of hysterical Henny Pennies," said Billy Compton, a Democrat who served as election director for two Republican secretaries of state.

Republican Mike Coffman, who in January began his four-year stint as secretary of state, announced last week that he intends to run for Congress in the 6th Congressional District in 2008.

Top Republicans begged Coffman to reconsider so the secretary of state post would stay in GOP control. He declined.

"I'm profoundly disappointed that Mike appears willing to do something that would turn that office over to Democrats," said Dick Wadhams, chairman of the Colorado Republican Party.

[...]

The governor appoints in case of a vacancy. Democrat Bill Ritter took over from Republican Bill Owens in January.

Several politicos have pointed out that Democrats weren't as riled up when Attorney General Ken Salazar ran for the U.S. Senate in 2004, even though they knew a Republican would be appointed to his post if he won.

Wadhams said that situation was different.

"Ken Salazar was the strongest Democratic candidate to try to take that open seat," Wadhams said.

The 6th Congressional District, on the other hand, is so heavily Republican that even if Coffman doesn't run it will remain a GOP seat, he said.

Wadhams also said the secretary of state's office has become increasingly more important as elections have gotten more complex and controversial.

Compton said that can be blamed in part on Katherine Harris, the former secretary of state in Florida who presided over the 2000 Bush-Gore election debacle.

"She's a clear example of how a secretary of state went beyond her responsibilities and directly interjected herself into the process," Compton said. "And she was a Republican."

The vote in Florida was so flawed it took nearly three weeks to determine the winner. Harris came under fire because she also served as George W. Bush's campaign chair for Florida.

The Colorado legislature later passed a law forbidding secretaries of states from holding such positions.

Because of problems in the 2000 presidential race, a number of new federal voting laws were passed. Colorado is still scrambling to implement them.

While the News noted the comments of Compton and other "politicos" critical of the GOP's position, it omitted any mention of three prominent controversies related to the 2006 election that involved then-Secretary of State Dennis.

As Colorado Media Matters noted, Dennis in August 2006 made changes to state campaign finance rules, one of which, according to an August 25, 2006, News article, also by Bartels, "was taken verbatim from a recommendation by GOP attorneys John Zakhem and Scott Gessler," who represented Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez's campaign, the state Republican Party, and the Republican-backed Trailhead Group. Owens, one of the founders of Trailhead, appointed Dennis to the position.

As the News reported on September 29, 2006, "The Colorado Court of Appeals on [September 28] rejected Secretary of State Gigi Dennis' Aug. 2 ruling that limited union donations to political campaigns, agreeing with a lower court that she probably overstepped her authority."

Dennis also was involved in a dispute regarding her office's efforts to comply with the requirements of the Help America Vote Act by certifying the security of the voting machines used in the November 7, 2006, election. As Colorado Media Matters noted, in a September 2006 ruling, Denver District Judge Lawrence Manzanares found that "Dennis' office never created minimum security standards for the [electronic voting] machines -- as required by state law." Manzanares also found that, under Owens' administration, "the state did an 'abysmal' job of documenting testing during the certification process," according to a September 24, 2006, Denver Post article.

Finally, despite reporting in its November 5 article that Colorado passed a law "forbidding" secretaries of state from holding partisan positions, the News failed to mention the controversy Dennis generated before the 2006 election by serving as co-chair for a Beauprez fundraiser. As the News reported on October 5, 2006, "Secretary of State Gigi Dennis is barred by law from chairing a political campaign, but she was an honorary co-chair of Wednesday's fundraiser for Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez, which featured President Bush." The article further reported:

Dennis, the state's highest election official, said in an interview that she met the letter of the law.

"I did think about this before I agreed to it," she said. She decided it made little difference because she was a known supporter of Beauprez before she became secretary of state last year.

Dennis, a Republican, said she didn't attend the lunch and didn't raise funds for Beauprez. She said she merely allowed her name to be used on the program, along with those of other state officials, including Gov. Bill Owens.

But she was castigated for it by the Democratic Party and by Ken Gordon, Democratic candidate for secretary of state.

Gordon said Dennis is "forgoing any pretense of neutrality" and "is certainly in violation of the spirit of the law."

A Democratic Party news release stated: "Her blatant partisanship disgraces her public office."

State Treasurer Mike Coffman's name also appeared on the program as an honorary co-chair, right before Dennis'.

But Coffman, the Republican candidate to replace Dennis as secretary of state, said he would not lend his name if he occupied that office. "I would not take any official role in a campaign, simply because of the perception it might create," he pledged.

"I think the role of the secretary of state is to make sure we have fair and honest elections, and not to influence the outcome of elections," Coffman said.

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