Jerry Kopel

In Arthur Clark's science fiction epic "2001 A Space Odyssey", we have a permanent base on the moon and are about to make contact with higher intelligent beings. And "2001" could also have been the year Denver celebrated the removal from Denver Election Commission registration books of sixteen false voter registrations perpetrated by Channel 9's Paula Woodward.

That's because Ms. Woodward and Channel 9 refused in May to file the affidavits required by Colorado law to remove the sixteen names falsely registered by them in March, 1995.

Even though none of the sixteen "voted" in the Denver elections, the names would have been reclassified as "inactive" and remain on the books and not purged until sometime in 2001. In the meantime, candidates for all sorts of political office could have been sending these "non-people" campaign literature.

Fortunately, that won't happen. After completing my service on the Denver Election Commission on July lst, I filed a two-page challenge to the sixteen names under CRS 1-9-101.

In case you have forgotten what happened, Ms. Woodward and Channel 9 employees decided to show how easy it was to falsely register. They used six Denver residences as addresses, which residences I have since learned belonged to KUSA employees or friends of staff. Even though the false registrations occurred in March, the story was held and used during the TV sweeps in late April.

In the broadcasts, Ms. Woodward stated she had registered a dog, a cat, and a dead person, a three year-old child, and herself, six times, giving different names. She also stated "two other members of our `9 Wants to Know' falsely registered," one of them using the name William Clinton.

Of course, no dog, cat, dead person, three-year-old child, or others "listed" actually registered. Ms. Woodward and other employees of Channel 9 used false names and then, to amuse television viewers portrayed pictures of a dog, cat, child, a cemetery stone, and a picture of the President of the United States, among others.

Both District Attorney William Ritter and Attorney General Gale Norton refused to consider prosecution of Ms. Woodward, claiming she lacked "culpable mental intent" since KUSA employees had told them in advance they did not intend to use the names to vote.

There are three ways to remove false names from registration rolls: (l) Affidavit by the perpetrator, (2) leaving the names on the election lists for six years, or (3) a challenge. A challenge is limited in that it can only be heard if filed more than 45 days before any Colorado or local election in the city or county involved. The challenger has to be a registered elector in the city or county, and has to supply documentary evidence to support the challenge.

Our challenge was heard on July 19th in an unusual beginning for the two new election commissioners, Marcia Johnson and Jan Tyler. At the conclusion of the hearing, the KUSA attorney agreed the sixteen names should be removed, and they were.

KUSA employees are not yet off the hook. The criminal statute of limitations is eighteen months on the misdemeanors involved in false registration. Since they occurred in March, 1995, the potential for criminal prosecution by some law enforcement authority won't lapse until October, 1996.

Ms. Woodward's explanation, during her series, of why she and others falsely registered was they wanted to show that Colorado election statutes were faulty in not requiring identification in registration and voting.

What has never been revealed until today, in this column, is that Arlys Ward, director of the Denver Election Commission, had provided Ms. Woodward and other KUSA employees with information in advance about why Woodward's presentation would be inaccurate because of the National Voting Rights Act language already adopted into Colorado's election laws.

"Without understanding the NVRA and the rationale behind this federal legislation," wrote Mrs. Ward, "your news story tonight will be inbalanced and incomplete. The NVRA requires states to provide "postcard" voter registration. No identification is required to register to vote..."

Of course, Ms. Woodward did not mention this on either the April 27th or 28th TV performances, and Ms. Woodward's "required identification" proposal was shot down shortly thereafter by a joint Colorado House-Senate committee apprized of the federal law.

But then, this was TV Sweeps Week. And in show business, the end always justifies the means. Right?



Jerry Kopel writes a column for the Statesman based on 22 years past experience as a state legislator. He served as Denver Election Commissioner from January to July l,1995.

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