DENVER -- Sixteen of nearly 4,000 Colorado registered voters who received letters questioning their citizenship have voluntarily withdrawn from voting rolls, state election officials said Thursday.
The figures released by Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler drew criticism that the small number casts further doubt on the merits of Gessler's investigation and contention that non-citizens are on voter lists and casting ballots.
In addition, Democrats have questioned his political motivation, since Colorado is expected to be a closely watched presidential battleground in the upcoming election.
The Republican elections chief insisted it's a worthy exercise to ensure voter lists are accurate.
"While some prefer to fan partisan flames and score political points, these residents share an interest in ensuring only eligible voters are casting ballots," Gessler said in a statement.
His office also said 177 of 1,400 names checked through a federal immigration database are pending verification of citizenship. Election officials want to hold hearings to challenge those whose citizenship is still in doubt.
Gessler's office said that means one out of eight is "trending as non-citizens."
The statement brought a sharp rebuke from Mark Grueskin, an attorney who represents Democrats on election issues.
"That's a ridiculous statement. You either are or you aren't a citizen. You can't trend that way," Grueskin said. "More importantly, the secretary still can't say how many, if any, non-citizens actually voted in Colorado elections. He has a choice: Come up with facts he can defend in court, or end this suspicion-laden inquiry."
Of the 3,903 letters Gessler sent, 482 responded affirming their citizenship. Another 1,011 voters had moved with forwarding address. So far, Gessler's search hasn't turned up any non-citizens who voted.
"When some races hinge on just a handful of votes, every vote counts. My goal is to make it easy to vote, but tough to cheat," Gessler said.
Election chiefs in Iowa, Michigan, New Mexico and Ohio – all expected to be competitive in November – joined Colorado and other states asking the federal government for access to the database to verify citizenship. Colorado got access to the database last week.
Using information from the department of motor vehicles, Gessler identified people who once presented documents showing they were not citizens, such as a green card, when applying for a driver's license.
Colorado sent letters questioning citizenship to 1,566 Democrats and 1,794 unaffiliated voters. Another 486 letters were sent to registered Republicans.
Colorado's election chief denied a request from The Associated Press for the names of the targeted voters, citing an ongoing investigation. Gessler's office also declined to name the people who withdrew their names from voting rolls.