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Gazette Premium Content State filing lawsuit after Democratic primary canceled

BOB STEPHENS Updated: April 30, 2012 at 12:00 am

El Paso County’s Clerk and Recorder is trying to save money, and is being sued by the Colorado Secretary of State’s office as a result.

The dispute centers on a 2009 law that says a primary election may be canceled when there is not more than one candidate for any political party for any office.

Wayne Williams, county Clerk and Recorder, interprets that law differently than Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler.

So when Williams canceled the June 26 Democratic and American Constitution primary elections at 5:01 p.m. Friday because there are no contested races, it got Gessler’s attention. The two had talked Thursday and Friday, Williams said, but couldn’t agree.

The lawsuit is expected to be filed Wednesday morning.

“We don’t think they’re allowed to cancel the election and they think they are,” said Rich Coolidge, public information officer for the secretary of state.

Both Coolidge and Williams said their offices are working cooperatively, but the question will have to be decided in court.

“It’s a declaratory action,” Coolidge said. “We just need to see who is right. We believe the legislative intent was that if there is one primary, then others can’t be canceled. In this case, Republicans would be getting name identification through their primary ballot and Democrats wouldn’t be afforded the same opportunity.”

To Williams, it comes down to common sense and money. He says the county would save approximately $68,000 if it doesn’t have to mail ballots for a Democratic and an American Constitution primary.

“We don’t use taxpayer money to give people name ID,” Williams said. “We want to use taxpayer dollars for meaningful purposes. We want to use that $68,000 to improve our early voting system for our voters in the November election.

“We’ll mail 17 races to El Paso County voters. Of those, Democrats have no candidates in 11 races and six are running unopposed. So why are we sending out ballots if there is no election? It’s the same as if a county commissioner saw a snowplow plowing a road with no snow on it. They’d call and ask why we’re wasting taxpayer money.”

The issue must be decided by May 9, Williams said, as overseas ballots must be mailed by May 11.

Canceling an election is nothing new for the Clerk and Recorder’s office, or for towns in El Paso County.

“Last November, six of our 17 school districts canceled elections because they didn’t have more candidates than offices,” Williams said. “A quarter of our (El Paso County) municipalities canceled their last election, and two of the five did in April. It’s not an unusual thing in municipal or school elections. But it’s not been done before for a primary.”

The deadline to register to vote in the June 26 primary is May 29. Ballots for the mail-election primary will be mailed beginning June 4. Go to govotecolorado.com for more details on the election.

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