Colorado Secretary of State Donetta Davidson hired Drew T. Durham as her Help America Vote Act compliance coordinator. HAVA is the act passed after the 2000 election debacle to help prevent voters from being accidentally disenfranchised by (among other things) requiring that states allow challenged voters to cast provisional ballots.

A little snooping by the Rocky Mountain Progressive Network uncovered evidence that while employed by the Texas Attorney General’s office, Durham was widely known for making anti-Black and anti-Latino racial slurs and for consistently siding against African-Americans in his work for the state. Why he was brought to Colorado to help run our election is far from clear — Davidson herself admits Durham is “no expert” in this area and it appears his job as Colorado’s top vote law enforcement officer is his first job ever in the field. Yet, although RMPN and the NAACP have come forward with sworn statements from witnesses in Texas about Durham’s alleged racial slurs and conduct, Davidson is standing by Durham.

Why would the Republican Secretary of State hire a person with Durham’s track record?

One answer might be found in a private poll by Republican consultant Tony Fabrizio that was made public yesterday by the Washington Monthly. The poll showed Bush leading Kerry in 12 battleground states by an extremely narrow margin — 47.3% to 47.1%. However, like most polls, this one weighted the results based on certain assumptions about what percentages of different groups will come out to the polls. And when Fabrizio changed his assumptions about minority voter participation — just to raise it to the percentage of participation in 2000 — the result became a Kerry lead of 3.5%, which ballooned to 5.2% when he changed the minority participation assumption to reflect the increase in minority population in the battleground states since 2000.

It must be said that there is no direct evidence, at least not in Colorado, of a concerted effort by the GOP to force down minority turnout. And my personal view is that attempting to suppress the vote through close scrutiny of provisional ballots or Election Day challenges to voter credentials will only have an effect in an extremely close election. But stories like the one about Durham are not going to give anyone confidence about the integrity of our election result here in Colorado.