It’s a week after Election Day and they’re still counting votes in Colorado, where some are blaming a new state law that replaced polling booths with mandatory mail-in ballots. Top-ticket races have been decided—Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper was re-elected and Republican Cory Gardner unseated Democratic Sen. Mark Udall—but the vote totals in a dozen state House and Senate races remain unknown. Democrats currently have a 37-28 majority in the House and are expected to keep it. But they did lose the Senate, where the Republicans will hold an 18-17 edge after being in the minority for a decade. And although those outcomes are unlikely to change once all the votes are counted, there is frustration with the new process, especially among the grass-roots.
State Sen. Evie Hudak resigned her seat Wednesday, ending a recall effort being waged against her days before gun-rights activists were to turn in petitions to try to oust the Democrat from office. In her resignation letter, Hudak said her decision would spare Jefferson County residents from having to shell out more than $200,000 for a special election, especially after the county has cut programs for seniors and mental health. She praised the gun laws Democrats passed in the 2013 session that sparked recall efforts against her and two fellow senators, Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs and Sen. Angela Giron of Pueblo. Several Democratic lawmakers conceded that a recall election would have served as a distraction during the 2014 session for them and for Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is up for re-election. And if voters in Hudak’s district had voted to oust her and replaced her with a Republican, the GOP would have gained control of the Senate by one seat. Democrats now have only an 18-17 majority over Republicans, thanks to the successful recalls of Morse and Giron, who were replaced by Republicans. Under Colorado law, Hudak’s successor will be a member of her own party.
Colorado: The Gessler 155: Zero prosecutions of people secretary of state says voted illegally | GJSentinel.com
Since taking over the Secretary of State’s Office in 2011, Scott Gessler has loudly and repeatedly claimed that non-citizens were illegally voting in Colorado elections. The Republican, who has long called for a new law requiring people to show proof of citizenship before voting, made national news when he went before Congress that year making a blockbuster statement that 16,270 non-citizens were registered to vote in Colorado and 5,000 of them actually had cast ballots in the 2010 state elections, when Democrat Michael Bennet narrowly defeated Republican Ken Buck for the U.S. Senate. But since making those claims, Gessler’s office said it has been able to identify only 80 non-citizens statewide who were on the voter rolls over the past nine elections, representing 0.0008 percent of the more than 10 million ballots that have been cast in those general elections, and those ballots don’t include primary races or local elections that were held during that time.
The Colorado Supreme Court has reaffirmed its decision in two Colorado legislative recall elections that voters do not have to first vote “yes” or “no” on the recall to have their votes for a successor validated. The Colorado high court said Monday a state constitutional requirement that voters must first vote on the recall before voting for a candidate violates rights to voting and expression under the U.S. Constitution. The court’s written ruling came in response to a question from Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper.
When a pair of Colorado lawmakers were recalled last month in a referendum on gun control, opponents had this to console them: At least, they said, the twin defeats did not alter the balance of power in Denver, the state capital. Now gun rights advocates are looking to change that. Organizers have received official go-ahead to start gathering signatures in a bid to oust state Sen. Evie Hudak, a Democrat from the Denver suburb of Westminister, who was the target of a failed recall petition drive earlier this year. The group, certified by Colorado’s secretary of State, has until Dec. 3 to collect just over 18,900 signatures to force a vote. The stakes: control of the state Senate, which Democrats hold by a tenuous 18-17 edge. Hudak, who is in her second term, was one of four lawmakers originally targeted after the Democratic-controlled Legislature passed a series of sweeping gun controls in response to mass shootings last year in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn. The measures, signed into law by Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, include a requirement for universal background checks and a limit on ammunition magazines like the one used in the July 2012 theater shootings in Aurora, another suburb of Denver.
Gov. John Hickenlooper is the latest to weigh in with concerns about Jon Caldara’s residency switch Saturday so he could vote in the recall election of Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs. Caldara, a longtime Boulder resident, said he was was trying to make a point that a new election law passed by Democrats and signed into law by Hickenlooper in May undid residency requirements that had been in Colorado law for years. “We are hearing disturbing reports that some people are being encouraged to go to the polls, not to legitimately vote, but to disrupt the process,” Hickenlooper said in a statement issued today. “That would be unlawful and makes a mockery of the democratic process. We urge the county clerks in Pueblo and El Paso counties to make clear that people engaged in attempting to disrupt the elections are open to criminal prosecution. We’ve also reached out to the attorney general to help us ensure fair elections take place this week.” Morse and another Democratic senator, Angela Giron of Pueblo, face recall elections Tuesday for their support for gun legislation in the 2013 session. The Independence Institute opposed the bills, and Caldara talks about the election law on the group’s web site. The governor’s spokesman, Eric Brown, on Sunday talked about “political stunts.”
A Denver District Court judge on Thursday ruled that the office of Secretary of State Scott Gessler went overboard when establishing rules for the first-ever recall elections of state legislators. “I do not think any of the matters that we’re about to deal with were enacted or adopted by the secretary of state’s office in bad faith,” Judge Robert McGahey said. “But I think some of them were wrong.” Two Democrats — Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs and Sen. Angela Giron of Pueblo — face ouster over their support for gun-control legislation during the 2013 session. Their elections are Sept. 10.
Voters in two Colorado legislative recall elections over new gun laws don’t have to first vote “yes” or “no” on the recall to have their votes for a successor validated, the state Supreme Court said Tuesday. A state constitutional requirement saying voters must first vote on the recall before voting for a candidate violates rights to voting and expression under the U.S. Constitution, the Colorado high court said. The court’s brief statement came in response to a question from Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper. The decision is the latest twist in recalls that have triggered legal challenges and drawn the attention of big-money contributors like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the National Rifle Association. Bloomberg wrote a check for $350,000 to support the Democratic candidates targeted for recall, according to the latest campaign finance disclosures.
Gov. John Hickenlooper wants guidance from the Colorado Supreme Court on how to count votes in two legislative recall elections, asking whether people have to answer “yes” or “no” first on whether they support the recalls to have their votes for a successor validated. The question is important because if it’s not resolved a legal challenge could then require a recount or even invalidate the entire election, according to a filing late Friday from Attorney General John Suthers on behalf of the Democratic governor. “A successful challenge would, at a minimum, require a recount, although a direr outcome — such as the invalidation of the entire election based on the distribution of faulty ballots — cannot be ruled out,” the court filing said.
Colorado: Gessler hires lawyer with ties to former firm to force Hickenlooper on recall elections | Denver Post
Republican Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler has hired an attorney with ties to his old law firm to file a bold court order against Gov. John Hickenlooper in an effort to force the governor to set election dates in the recalls of two Democratic state lawmakers. In a writ of mandamus, filed in Denver District Court over the weekend by attorney Steven Klenda, Gessler asks for an “expedited/emergency hearing” because Hickenlooper, a Democrat, has “refused to perform his constitutional duty to set a date for an election to recall” of Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, and Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo. Colorado’s constitution says that an election date must come 60 days after the secretary of state’s office certifies recall petitions — which came on July 5. But Hickenlooper’s office is holding off until a Wednesday court hearing where a District Court judge will decide on a preliminary injuction that seeks to order Hickenlooper not be required to set an election date until the judicial process in the recall battle has ended.
The work of Democrats in the legislature and Republicans collecting signatures in Colorado Springs and Pueblo has put a figurative ticking clock on the desk of Secretary of State Scott Gessler, the state’s chief election official. Nobody, however, is calling the tick-tock a time bomb just yet. Here’s the dilemma: Democrats passed House Bill 1303 in May, which requires that a ballot is mailed to every registered voter in each election, even the ones who haven’t voted in awhile. The law also allows residents to register all the way to Election Day. The law took effect July 1, and most assumed it would first apply to the primaries and the general election in 2014. Recall elections against state Senate President John Morse in El Paso County and Sen. Angela Giron in Pueblo mean Gessler’s staff has weeks, not months, to figure out how to make the system work without chaos for county clerks and fraud in the elections’ outcomes, a concern Gessler and his staff voiced before the bill was passed. Voters have had the option of choosing mail ballots for years — and most voters choose it — but now everyone will get a mail ballot, or choose to show up in-person at vote centers, if they wish.
Colorado: Secretary of State Scott Gessler wrong to use state funds for trip, ethics commission rules | The Denver Post
Secretary of State Scott Gessler “breached the public trust for private gain” when he used his office discretionary fund to pay for a trip to a Republican lawyers conference in Florida, the state ethics commission ruled Thursday. He also violated state ethics law when he kept $117.99 left in the fund last year, rather than submit receipts that he said accounted for hundreds of dollars more for unreimbursed mileage for state business. The commission penalized Gessler twice the amount in dispute, about $1,400, minus about $1,278 he chose to repay last month (to avoid any appearance of wrongdoing, his lawyer, David Lane, said). The precise amount will be published in the final order Tuesday. Gessler issued a written statement after Thursday’s ruling accusing the five-member bipartisan commission of being out to get him.
Secretary of State Gessler reimbursed the state nearly $1,300 for a political trip to Florida last year, renewing speculation he plans to run for governor in 2014. His political director, Rory McShane, said Gessler’s decision to reimburse the money — which led to an ethics complaint against the Republican office-holder — has nothing do with his election plans. Gessler on Thursday also filed a candidate affidavit for governor, which his office said was a campaign finance requirement after he publicly revealed last week he was thinking of taking on Gov. John Hickenlooper. Affidavits must be filed with 10 days of making a formal announcement or even signifying a possible run.
Editorials: Colorado Passed Broad Election Reform, Other States Should Follow | Myrna Pérez/Huffington Post
State legislatures across the country are hard at work expanding the right to vote. Already, more than 200 bills to improve voting access have been introduced in 45 states in 2013. Friday in Denver, Gov. John Hickenlooper made Colorado the latest to expand rights, joining Maryland, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Virginia, and West Virginia. More legislation is awaiting signature in Florida. To be sure, some states continue to push needless restrictions on the ability of citizens to participate in elections, and voters and their advocates must remain vigilant against any such efforts. Still, the trend is unmistakable: After years of backsliding, states are embracing free, fair, and accessible elections. In many cases, the bills have enjoyed broad bipartisan support, another encouraging trend. Legislators are expanding access to the ballot in a variety of ways, from reducing the burden of voter identification requirements, to modernizing voter registration, to expanding early voting.
On Friday, Governor John Hickenlooper signed a bill to overhaul Colorado’s elections system to include same-day voter registration and mailing ballots to all voters. It’s called the Colorado Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act, and it redefines how elections are run here in Colorado. The elections overhaul allows same-day voter registration, and it allows registered voters to receive ballots by mail. But people can still vote in person, drop off their ballot or mail it in. The law also eliminates the category of “inactive” voters, or those who skip even one election. Another key component of the bill is that voters can now vote at any of the voting centers established in the measure, instead of following the current system that designates precinct polling places.
National: After Wins for Voter ID and Other Restrictive Measures, Democrats Fight Back on Elections | Stateline
Republicans several years ago seized the upper hand in the so-called “voting wars” by pushing voter ID and other measures that created new voting restrictions. But now Democrats across the country are fighting back. This week, Colorado lawmakers sent Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, a bill that allows voters in that state to register at the polls on Election Day; creates an all-mail ballot system; and ensures that voters who move within Colorado don’t have to re-register at their new address. The Colorado law is especially broad, but it is only the latest in a series of victories for those who want to streamline registration and reduce long lines at the polls. The governor is expected to sign the measure, which has overwhelming support among Democrats. During the last legislative session, Maryland expanded early voting, eased absentee voting and approved same-day registration during early voting periods. West Virginia implemented a new system to register residents using state records already on file. Delaware removed the waiting period for nonviolent felons to regain their voting rights, and made re-establishing them automatic. And this week, the Minnesota House approved a measure making absentee balloting easier.
A Colorado elections overhaul that includes same-day voter registration and mailing ballots to all voters has been signed into law. Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the bill Friday afternoon. Republicans raised concerns about voter fraud and no GOP lawmakers voted for the bill. But Democrats who sponsored the legislation say the goal is to enfranchise more voters and make it easier to vote. They argue the fraud concerns are unfounded.
The Senate on Thursday backed sweeping elections reform legislation that has polarized the legislature, resulting in marathon debate that kicked off Tuesday when Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, moved for the entire 126 pages to be read at length. The Democratic-controlled Senate passed House Bill 1303 by a party-line vote of 20-15, despite the stall tactic. Amendments were later approved by the House, which sent the bill to Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, for his signature. Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, and House Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst of Boulder and Assistant Majority Leader Dan Pabon of Denver sponsored the measure. Senate Reading Clerk Max Majors on Tuesday during second reading read the bill for about two and a half hours, with help from staff. Long-time Capitol observers could not remember another time when such a long bill was read at length. During the redistricting debate of 2003, the reading clerk was asked to read Senate Bill 352, but the measure was only 20 pages. Republicans, who debated the bill on Tuesday into Wednesday morning for nearly seven hours, view its passage as a power grab. One by one they took to the well, drawing out debate on the measure, while Democrats mostly sat at their desks, choosing not to speak during the Republican filibuster.
It hasn’t gotten the national attention it deserves, but a sweeping measure to overhaul elections in Colorado is swiftly moving towards passage — one that could function as a model for other voting reformers in other states, and perhaps even nationally. The Colorado measure will represent a big step forward, because it sticks to the most fundamental principle that most reformers think should guide our efforts to fix voting: That voting should be made easier for as many people as possible. This, at a time when conservative groups are working to restrict voting in the name of “voter fraud.” As Reid Wilson recently put it, the Colorado measure is “the Democratic comeback to voter ID.”
Colorado would become the nation’s third all-mail ballot state in the country — after Oregon and Washington — under a bill sent by the Legislature to Gov. John Hickenlooper on Friday. The measure has raised a partisan ruckus in Colorado — not so much for the mail voting as for another provision in the bill that would allow prospective voters to register as late as election day. The bill passed on party-line votes in both houses, with the Republicans furiously claiming that election-day registration opened the state to widespread voter fraud. (Colorado currently cuts off registration 29 days before the election, compared to 20 days in Oregon).
Editorials: How Colorado’s Forthcoming Election Law Incentivizes The GOP | Reid Wilson/National Journal
The Colorado state Senate on Thursday passed legislation requiring the state to conduct its elections entirely by absentee ballot. The party-line vote, and Gov. John Hickenlooper’s likely signature, means Colorado will become the third state, alongside Washington and Oregon, to hold elections entirely by mail. I’ve been a little obsessed with this bill since it passed the state House last week, and here’s why: It exposes, and exacerbates, the largest structural advantage Democrats hold over Republicans. From an academic standpoint, the new system shouldn’t make much of a difference. Chelsea Brossard, the research director at the Early Voting Information Center at Reed College, says there’s no academic research that shows higher levels of early voting, whether in person or through the mail, benefits one party over the other.
The Colorado Senate passed a bill Thursday that would provide a ballot by mail to every state voter, allow vote centers for those who choose not to use the mail ballot and — controversially — allow people to register and vote on Election Day. The bill passed 20-15 with the full support of Democrats and no Republican votes. The bill passed the House on a party-line vote last month. Before it can go to Gov. John Hickenlooper for a signature to become the new way elections are held in Colorado, the bill must return to the House for approval because of “technical” amendments added in the Senate. While legislators in both parties liked the convenience of more by-mail voting, Election Day registration was the grist for the oratory mill.
A big change to Colorado’s election system got another lopsided victory before a state Senate committee Wednesday night. The so-called Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act would provide mail ballots to every Colorado voter and allow registration all the way to Election Day. The State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee passed the bill on a 3-2 vote, three Democrats for, two Republicans against, after the bill passed the House without a single GOP vote last week. After a stop before the Senate Appropriations Committee, it goes to the full Senate. If it passes there — before 20 Democrats and 15 Republicans — by the end of the legislative session on May 8, it goes to Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper for a signature to become law.
The legislation that could either modernize, economize and simplify the state’s election system — or open it up to voter fraud, depending on who you believe — is expected to go to the floor of the state House of Representatives for a vote Thursday. The so-called Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act passed out of its second House committee this week early Wednesday morning. The Appropriations Committee gave it an 8-4 approval on a party-line vote. The House’s State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee gave it a 7-4 party line vote Monday night. Though backers have called it a bipartisan bill, so far it’s yet to pick up a single Republican vote or any endorsement from GOP lawmakers or organizations.
It was perhaps inevitable that Gov. John Hickenlooper would sign a controversial bill governing public access to voted ballots that we and many concerned observers had urged him to veto. After all, the bill was vocally supported by elected county clerks. Not only do they understand the business of conducting elections better than anyone, they claimed the sky might fall if he didn’t sign the bill. The governor obviously had reservations about House Bill 1036, which he outlined in his signing message, but they unfortunately weren’t strong enough for him to defy the opinion of the expert Chicken Littles. Too bad. Colorado now has an election system with a privileged class of people — not only candidates but also political parties and representatives of issue committees that gave money to ballot measures — who may inspect voted ballots when everyone else, including the media, is excluded. Those of us in the non-privileged majority will not have access to voted ballots until after elections are certified — too late, citizen activists persuasively argue, for effective public oversight. Many of those activists, it should be noted, have followed election issues closely for years and know a thing or two about them, too.
Gov. John Hickenlooper signed legislation today that sets rules for public review of voted ballots — a bill supporters say is necessary to prevent chaos in the November election, but critics call a blow to open government. Election integrity activists, members of the Colorado Lawyers Committee Election Task Force and groups such as Common Cause and Colorado Ethics Watch had flooded the governor’s office with letters asking him to veto House Bill 1036. Several of those opponents plan to file a lawsuit to stop the law from taking effect, activist Marilyn Marks said today. “Based on our familiarity with this bill and its flawed process, we believe that those legal challenges will be successful in striking down this law,” Marks said. “We hope that the litigation will have immediate impact prior to the upcoming elections where full transparency is unquestionably required.” Hickenlooper’s office is expected to issue a statement later today explaining why he signed the bill.
Colorado: Veto pressure mounts as Hickenlooper reviews open-records elections bill | The Colorado Independent
In the weeks since the Colorado legislative session ended, calls for Gov. John Hickenlooper toveto House Bill 1036 have come from the political left, right and center, from government watchdog organizations, citizen rights and tax reform activists and from representatives of the sovereign Ute Mountain Ute tribe in southwest Colorado. Whatever happens by next Friday, when the deadline to sign the bill arrives, wrangling over its contents and legitimacy will continue indefinitely. “Litigation will follow a signature from the governor. It’s a certainty,” Jennifer Weddle, attorney for the Ute Mountain Ute, told the Colorado Independent. She said the tribe is deeply concerned the bill would limit protection against the kind of voter suppression efforts that have plagued Indian voters in the United States for decades. “Whether a suit is filed by the [tribe], by an individual member of the tribe or by a Colorado citizen, the process by which the bill was passed was so broken that litigation is certain.”
Colorado: Ballot review open only to select parties? – Hickenlooper must decide whether to veto HB 1036 | Colorado Statesman
Gov. John Hickenlooper is weighing a controversial bill that some believe creates a separate class of the public in reviewing ballots following an election, with the aim of maintaining anonymity while also allowing for transparency. House Bill 1036 — which began as Senate Bill 155, but was grafted onto HB 1036 in the waning hours of the regular legislative session — would solidify in statute that ballots are open to the public under the Colorado Open Records Act, but not immediately available to all members of the public. Instead, the bill would create a category known as an “interested party,” which would include political parties and representatives of issue committees, or stakeholders involved in the outcome of the election. Those “interested parties” would be granted access to ballots starting 45 days before any election and until the election is certified, while the rest of the public — including the press and watchdog groups — would be prohibited from reviewing the ballots until the election is certified by county clerks.
A little-known measure — we first editorialized against it in January — sailed through the legislative process in this statehouse session with little fanfare and less debate. It was designed, with the best intentions, to clear up a significant problem with Colorado’s ballots. The Colorado Constitution states: “All elections by the people shall be by ballot, and in case paper ballots are required to be used, no ballots shall be marked in any way whereby the ballot can be identified as the ballot of the person casting it.” The problem is that because of overlapping municipal districts — a fire district here, a local business improvement district there, a town board election and schools — it is conceivable that some ballots could be traced back to specific voters. Not likely, but certainly possible, and that flies in the face of the state constitution.
A growing coalition is asking Gov. John Hickenlooper to veto a bill that creates rules for public inspection of voted ballots, saying it is “an unprecedented step” to block the public’s right to ensure fair elections that was “ramrodded” through the legislature in its final days. Among those who have contacted Hickenlooper or plan to do so are members of the Colorado Lawyers Committee Election Task Force, the chairman of the Ute Mountain Ute tribe, Colorado Common Cause, Colorado Ethics Watch and two election-integrity groups. “The reality of this legislation is that at the most critical time, when the public has an interest in clerks’ management of elections, it creates an unprecedented exemption from (the Colorado Open Records Act),” said John Zakhem, a prominent elections attorney.