Democrats propose recall elections mail ballot fix

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DENVER — After seeing two of their colleagues bounced from office last fall in recall elections in which mail ballots weren’t used, Senate Democrats introduced legislation Monday to ensure that mail ballots can be used in future recall elections.

The proposal, read across the Senate desk Monday afternoon as Senate Bill 158, will adhere to the state constitution’s requirement that candidates have until 15 days before Election Day to submit petitions to qualify for the ballot, but it will tweak the statute so that the deadline is marked 15 days ahead of when voting actually begins — with mail ballots, that’s often three weeks ahead of Election Day itself.

“The objective here is to make the process of putting on a recall elections something that’s feasible, something that’s clarified,” said Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, the bill’s sponsor. “We want to make it easier for clerks to administer these elections and for more voters to participate in them.”

Last fall, a Denver judge ruled in favor of the Colorado Libertarian Party, which failed to meet a deadline set by the legislature to submit petitions 10 days before the recall ballot was set and argued that the constitution, which allowed petitioners up to 15 days prior to Election Day to make the ballot, should supersede state law.

As a result, mail ballots were thrown out in the two recall elections because clerks had to set their ballots too late to be able to mail them out.

Democrats lost both elections.

In Senate District 11, where just 21 percent of registered voters cast ballots, former Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, was ousted by 343 votes.

In Senate District 3, where turnout was higher, former Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, was recalled by a far larger margin, 60-40 percent.

“I don’t think only having 21 percent of people show up to vote is anyone’s model of how to run an election,” said Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, a co-sponsor of the new bill.

Democrats publicly expressed hope that Republicans would support the legislation, but a statement from Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman Monday afternoon left little doubt about where the GOP caucus stands.

“The changes in elections that Democrats are demanding require a change to the Constitution and therefore need approval from the people of Colorado,” said Cadman, R-Colorado Springs. “It’s understandable that after losing two recall elections and witnessing the defeat of a historic billion dollar tax increase Democrats would prefer not to take any more issues to the people, but the Constitution is clear — the people of Colorado must vote on any changes in this area.

“This proposal, combined with their lawsuit to eliminate the Taxpayer Bill of Rights should be of serious concern for everyone.”

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