PITKIN — The Secretary of State’s office sent a letter to the Gunnison County District Attorney’s office declaring four residents whose votes were challenged earlier this year in the town of Pitkin are eligible to vote there.
The unusual step comes after seven people were charged for lying about where they live following the 2016 municipal elections. At issue is whether those residents are considered permanent residents.
Six of them pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges, and the other person was found guilty in Gunnison County Court.
Deputy Secretary of State, Suzanne Staiert said Pitkin residents are “fearful of exercising their fundamental right to vote because of the voter intimidation issues.”
District Attorney Dan Hotsenpiller with the 7th Judicial District said his office did nothing wrong.
“We’re following the law,” Hotsenpiller said. “That’s what we have to do. We have to follow the evidence and follow the law. We don’t convict people; we only present the evidence.”
The Secretary of State’s office said the DA's office went through extraordinary measures to investigate primary residences by searching properties, photographing homes and issuing subpoenas to monitor utility usage.
Hotsenpiller did not call those measures extreme.
"Something like utility usage is actually really important because it may indicate whether someone is residing in the home or not,” he said.
But Staiert said that’s irrelevant because the only requirement for a primary residence in the state of Colorado is that a person has an intent to return, which is why deployed military members, college students and homeless people can still vote.
“You don’t lose that right simply because you live part of the year in one place and part of the year in another place,” said Secretary of State Wayne Williams.
Brian Holt is one of the four residents included in the Deputy Secretary of State’s letter. He said his vote was challenged this year because he has a second home in Colorado Springs.
“The guy that owns and pays taxes on property that’s up there in the summer time from May to October, if he does everything right, he has the right to vote in Pitkin,” said Holt.
When his vote was challenged, Holt began collecting records including his driver’s license, insurance, social security card, motor vehicle registration and hunting license. All of those documents say he lives in the town of Pitkin.
"I wasn’t willing to risk it, but there’s other people that couldn’t afford attorneys so they end up plea bargaining for something they didn’t do wrong,” said Holt.
The Secretary of State’s office is calling on the U.S. Attorney’s office to investigate the DA under the Voting Rights Act.