The Colorado House of Representatives passed, on a 37-28 party-line vote, a bill that will allow citizens to cast remote ballots in recall elections. Senate Bill 158 was being pushed by Democrats angered by the recalls last year of state Sens. Angela Giron and John Morse, who were voted out of office after their support for gun-control measures. A third Democratic senator, Evie Hudak, resigned rather than face a recall battle. Morse and Giron were removed after voter turnouts of 21 and 36 percent, respectively. Democrats argue that the outcome was, at least in part, the result of recall election laws, which effectively required voters to physically turn in ballots on a single day.
Century-old elections language sparked a fiery partisan debate in the Colorado Senate on Thursday as Democrats steered through an update to recall laws despite complaints that they’re trying to change the rules in their favor. The bill updates dusty recall requirements that were written long before modern elections procedures such as mail-in voting. The bill was approved on an unrecorded voice vote and faces a more formal vote before heading to the House. Democrats say the bill is not an attempt to make it harder to recall public officials, even though two of their own were ousted last year in the first state legislator recalls in Colorado’s history.
tung by the recalls of two state senators last September, Colorado Democrats are carrying out an age-old tradition – trying to revamp laws about recall elections. Going back at least a century, practically anytime a surprising recall effort has qualified for the ballot, legislators immediately scurry to modify the law. Despite the seemingly self-serving nature of this and many other post-recall reform proposals, Colorado’s Democrats are right in pushing this one forward. If approved, it would clean up poorly drafted statutes that don’t conform to general election laws. They would remove roadblocks to citizens seeking recalls. And, learning from the 2013 snafus in Colorado, they seek to avoid expensive delays and lawsuits. The proposed Colorado changes are an attempt to conform recall law to existing election laws, some of which were passed earlier in 2013. The major focus is to make workable a judicial ruling that prevented the recall from being an all mail election by defining the constitution’s language of “date for holding the election” so that it allows candidates to petition onto the ballot until 15 days before mail ballots are sent out, instead of 15 days before the election closes.
Democrats moved forward Friday with a measure they say will boost voter turnout in recall elections, despite strong opposition from Republicans assailing it as unconstitutional. The legislation looks to harmonize language in state statute with Colorado’s constitution in regard to the recall election process. Under the constitution, a candidate has up to 15 days before Election Day to submit signatures so that the candidate’s name can appear on the recall ballot.
Democrats this week unveiled legislation that aims to correct some of the legal conflicts revealed last summer during recall elections of two Senate Democrats that nullified mail balloting and contributed to the Democrats’ loss. During an impromptu media availability hosted by Senate Democrats on Monday, lawmakers proposed a measure that would modify a provision in state statute that allows a person to petition onto a recall election ballot 15 days before the election date. The provision was highlighted during a Denver District Court case this summer challenging the recall elections of then-Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs and then-Sen. Angela Giron of Pueblo. Both lawmakers were subsequently ousted from office for their support of gun control after the court allowed the elections to continue. The Libertarian Party of Colorado filed the lawsuit, arguing that they had not missed a 10-day deadline to submit signatures in order to petition a successor candidate onto the ballot. The case pointed out that state law mandates that ballots be mailed no later than 18 days before the election. But the state constitution requires that successor candidates have up to 15 days before the election to submit signatures.
The ability to circulate petitions and recall elected officials is a constitutional right. But recall elections are much more difficult than the regularly scheduled elections. They typically are more emotional and controversial. Fewer people vote in recalls so they tend to be less representative, and they are expensive for local governments. County clerks deal with recall elections periodically, more commonly for local officials such as city council members or school board directors. In Colorado last year, we held two recall elections for state legislators — the first time in the history of our state. I supervised one of those recall elections, in which 36 percent of eligible voters participated and cost Pueblo County $270,000. The participation rate would have no doubt been higher and the cost less burdensome had we been able to mail ballots to all registered voters. But a lawsuit by the Libertarian Party revealed 100-year-old constitutional language that candidates have until 15 days before the election to petition onto the ballot, not leaving enough time to print, mail and return ballots. This petition timeline is not in place for any other type of election. It is an even more burdensome timeline for small, rural counties with fewer resources.
With last year’s recall elections fresh in their minds, leading Democrats in the Colorado Senate laid out a case for changes in state laws governing recall elections. Democrats insisted their aim was to clear up confusion about how recalls work and encourage more voter participation, saying nothing in the bill they’re introducing would make it tougher to attempt to recall a public official in Colorado. ”As to the ability to actually recall someone or whether it’s harder or easier, it’s agnostic on that,” said Senate President Morgan Carroll. “It’s neutral. It doesn’t really affect that.”
Calling Colorado election law “dusty” and confusing, Democrats announced a plan Monday to update recall election regulations. Democrats called the plan nonpartisan, a straightforward effort to address conflicting, confusing language in state elections code. Republicans didn’t bite, immediately deriding the proposal as an effort to circumvent constitutional requirements for recalls. Colorado’s recall language came into focus last year, when two Democratic state senators were recalled over support for gun-control measures including expanded background checks.
A secret court ruling in the “John Doe” probe into campaign finance violations during Wisconsin’s 2011 and 2012 recall elections could have implications well beyond the investigation – if news reports from anonymous sources are accurate. Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal editorial board reported that Wisconsin Judge Gregory Peterson had quashed subpoenas issued to Wisconsin Club for Growth and Citizens for a Strong America in the closed-door John Doe criminal investigation (which operates like a grand jury except in front of a judge), on grounds that it was not illegal for these supposedly independent groups to coordinate with the Walker campaign — since their ads supporting Walker’s reelection did not expressly tell viewers to “vote for” Walker or “vote against” his opponent. Wisconsin Club for Growth spent at least $9.1 million on these “issue ads” supporting Walker and legislative Republicans during the 2011 and 2012 recall elections, and in turn shuffled millions more to Citizens for a Strong America, which funnelled the money to other groups that spent on election “issue ads.”
Editorials: Colorado’s terrible election law has real-world consequences | Jon Caldara/Greeley Tribune
I’m not going to jail, at least not for voting. That means good news for me, and a chance to keep Coloradans’ trust in our election results, but only if the new General Assembly is willing to act on the terrible election law passed last year. While anti-gun legislation dominated the media during the last Colorado legislative session, the most dangerous bill passed was a revamp of our voting laws. Thanks to House Bill 1303, Colorado is now the poster child for sloppy election law. Not only does a cable TV or phone bill serve as a valid form of voter identification, but we’re also the only state in the country that has both all mail-in ballots and same-day voter registration. Under the new law our ballots, including yours, are flung through the mail like grocery-store coupons, whether you want them delivered that way to you or not. As the news site CompleteColorado.com reported, ballots in the last election were readily found in trash cans and apartment mail rooms, just ready to be harvested.