Moreno’s efforts paid off. Gessler’s office, which Moreno credits with always dealing openly with him, promptly produced the party registrations, which showed, as Moreno reported in August, the “vast majority of registered voters who received letters were Democrats or independent voters.” This, Moreno wrote, “renewed skepticism” that Gessler “has a political motivation in sending the letters,” although he has “repeatedly denied claims that party registration plays a factor in his efforts to make sure ineligible voters are not on rolls.”
(Rich Coolidge, a spokesman for Secretary of State Gessler, told CJR on Friday that
“outside groups are trying to leverage” Gessler’s attempt to purge voter rolls of noncitizens and turn the secretary of state into a “bogeyman.”
A widespread perception on the left is that Gessler’s office has been targeting Hispanics in his voter-roll purge. But when asked to identify the nationality of most suspected noncitizen voters, Coolidge told me it runs the gamut, although Canadians seem to “stand out.” Coolidge said accusations by the left that the secretary of state has been targeting illegal immigrants from Mexico are politically motivated.
Coolidge also said that Denver voting officials “are playing loose with the facts.” Of the 35 people Gessler’s office identified who voted in the past and who swore they were citizens, Coolidge said that it is their word only. “Denver ‘verified’ they were citizens, but all they had to do was check a ‘yes’ box,” Coolidge said. Denver County decided there was “no need to look further,” Coolidge said. The secretary of state has identified additional “vulnerabilities” in the voter rolls and will be announcing them soon, he said. “The list is going to be cleaner than ever before.”)
In his reporting, Moreno said he faced several challenges, starting with the lack of an authoritative list of US citizens. “As far as I know, there’s no one single federal database that keeps track of who is and who is not a citizen, so a lot of the times what elected officials end up doing is cross referencing them from different databases, and that makes it really hard.”
For example, Colorado looked at Department of Motor Vehicle records to find people who used green cards to verify their identity to obtain a driver’s license, Moreno said. “They’ve shown evidence they’re not a citizen,” he said. Later, when their names show up on voter rolls, “it creates this question of, ‘Are there people on the voting list who are not citizens?’”
“What makes it trickier it that just because at one point you showed a green card at the DMV and then were on a voting list a year later, there’s no easy way to tell during that one year if you became naturalized. So just because you’re on one list and not the other is not entirely conclusive.”
Another challenge was writing the complicated story “in a way people could understand it. There were a lot of numbers and difficult terms people haven’t heard before.” Moreno said he concentrated on making sure he was “as fair as possible to both sides” and said he is proud none of his sources has accused him of bias.
Moreno added he feels other Colorado reporters—like Patrick Malone of the Fort Collins Coloradoan, and The Denver Post’s Sara Burnett and Tim Hoover—did equally strong work on the story. “It’s not like I lifted the lid off some corruption by government. It’s nice to get accolades, but I don’t fee like I did anything that was extraordinary.”
The biggest lesson Moreno said he learned was that persistence pays. “You can’t get discouraged if your first couple of stories aren’t home runs or even base hits. If you think a story has potential, keep going.”