03/02/2012 05:49 pm ET Updated May 02, 2012

The Colorado Secretary of State's Problem with Numbers

Since day one in office, Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler has had a number of problems as well a problem with numbers, as in figures.

First, you recall, it was his salary figure. Too low.

Then he said there was the "pretty high incidence" of fraud (implying a BIG number) in Denver's 2009 elections, based on the fact that 200 inactive-voter ballots were returned. The real number was zero. No cases of fraud were found.

Later, he told the Pueblo Chieftain, regarding returned election ballots, that "some are fraud." This sounded like a MID-SIZED number, but "some" turned out to be none, based on any real-life evidence released to date. Ditto for evidence of Gessler's assertion that "instances" of voter fraud in Colorado could have been prevented by requiring voters to present identification.

Then there were the 11,805 people who, Gessler said, were not citizens when they registered to vote.

Of these people, Gessler said he has a list of 4,947 registered voters who could have voted illegally in Colorado. But Gessler refused to give this list to the Denver Post or anyone else. Most recently, last weekend, he said there are "a lot" of noncitizens on the voting rolls.

So what's the accurate number of noncitizens on the Colorado voting rolls? Until proof shows otherwise, you have to assume the number is zero.

Also stuck in make-believe land are the 106 people, of the 4,947 figure above, Gessler said were likely to actually have voted illegally. The correct number, as far as anyone can tell, is zero, unless someone is hiding evidence. Which is unlikely because Gessler himself has access to databases he needs to verify this figure.

Journalists should be able to relate to Gessler insofar as reporters are known to have trouble with numbers, too. But unlike Gessler, journalists self-identify as innumerate and double- and triple-check their numbers before putting them out there.

This doesn't stop journalists from making numerical mistakes, but they usually try to set the record straight.

But Gessler plows ahead, as if his wrong or ostensibly fictional numbers are meaningful.

And he seems to drop his numbers in media venues where reporters might not know the history that I've outlined above, like the Sterling Journal-Advocate, which recently reported:

[Gessler's] office is also working on making sure only eligible people are voting.

"One of the areas that we've got a real hole in, in Colorado, is the issue with respect to non-citizens voting," Gessler said.

When his office compared the driver's license data base against the voter registration data base last year, they found thousands of people who are here legally, who proved they were non-citizens, had a green card or student visa and got a driver's license with that and registered to vote. [Big Media emphasis]

This figure of "thousands" of potentially illegal voters, like most of Gessler's numbers, has nothing supporting it. It's never been verified or substantiated at all.

At this point, after living through Gessler's parade of numbers, you wouldn't think reporters who've been following our secretary of state would regurgitate any number from him without letting thier audience know if it's wrong, unverified, or, we can only hope, accurate.

But reporters at small-town newspapers should be on their guard. Please, if Gessler passes through town, in the interest of maintaining basic faith in our voting system, check his numbers.