Colorado’s historic recall elections devolve into a ‘comedy of errors’

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Greg Campbell Contributor
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The Colorado recall elections hit another snag after a Denver court ruled that candidates should be given more time to get their names on the ballots than had been allowed under a new election reform law, a ruling that invalidated the mail-in ballots already sent out to many voters.

As a result, eligible voters who recently received mail-in ballots — including hundreds of active-duty military members serving overseas — may not be able to vote if they can’t show up in person at voting centers

The new election-reform law requires recall elections be conducted by mail-in ballots, and for potential candidates to submit petition signatures within 10 days after the governor sets the election date.

But the state constitution allows candidates to submit signatures to appear on the ballot up to 15 days before the election.

Because of the time needed to verify the signatures, print the ballots and mail them to voters, it’s nearly impossible for county clerks to adhere to both laws.

In spite of the many challenges Democratic Sens. John Morse and Angela Giron have mounted to prevent their recalls, no one noticed the conflict between the statute and the Constitution until the Libertarian Party was told that the deadline to run candidates had passed and that hundreds of ballots had already been mailed to absentee and overseas military voters.

The party sued, saying that the Constitution trumps statute.

After a full day in court Monday, District Court Judge Robert McGahey agreed, saying the Colorado Constitution “cannot be ignored.”

In ruling that Libertarian candidates had been denied access to the ballot, McGahey gave them and others until Aug. 26 to submit 1,000 valid signatures to run against Morse and Giron. El Paso and Pueblo county clerks are now planning the Sept. 10 elections from scratch. Because there will be no time to mail ballots, voters must show up in person to cast a vote, which is expected to raise the cost of the elections.

The ruling may also deny as many as 900 eligible military voters from participating, since they most likely won’t be receiving replacement mail ballots, according to the Colorado Observer.

“The tragedy in this comedy of errors is that the men and women of our military, the very ones who are overseas defending our freedoms, will not be able to cast their ballot in this election,” George Rivera, the Republican challenger for Giron’s Senate seat said in a statement reported by the website.

Rivera isn’t alone in being embarrassed by how the election process is unfolding. Conservative blog Colorado Peak Politics called the election the “sloppiest ever.” Morse challenger Bernie Herpin, whose son is serving overseas in the Navy, called it “shameful” that he can’t cast a vote in the election.

Morse and Giron are being targeted for their support of tough new gun-control laws.

Colorado GOP Chairman Ryan Call said that the snafu makes the case that many of the senators’ critics have been making from the beginning: The two lawmakers pushed through sweeping changes without thinking about the consequences.

“Republicans warned Sen. Morse, Sen. Giron and Gov. [John] Hickenlooper of the grave consequences that would arise if they rammed through their shoddy election-reform legislation,” he said in a statement on the party’s website. “They ignored us. Now, it appears that our servicemen and women are the ones who will bear the brunt of Sens. Morse and Giron’s careless work.”

The Denver Post reports that representatives of both major parties appeared unified in court, arguing on behalf of the new law. Democrats, the paper reported, don’t want an in-person election because turnout will likely be lower. Republicans, on the other hand, aren’t pleased with the prospect of third party candidates potentially splitting the vote.

In the end, though, McGahey ruled that the new law was flawed and that the elections should follow the provisions of the Constitution.

Late Tuesday, Democrats said they would appeal the ruling to the Colorado Supreme Court, a move supported by the AFL-CIO.

“The AFL-CIO has over 10,000 union household voters in the two districts combined, many of whom are accustomed, indeed expecting, to receive a ballot in the mail,” President Mike Cerbo said in a statement reported by Denver’s Fox31.

“This ruling directly impacts the ability for many voters, such as seniors, the disabled and shift workers, to vote. The Colorado AFL-CIO strongly supports appealing this decision to the Colorado Supreme Court.”

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