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Secretary of State approves Sen. John Morse recall petitions

July 3, 2013 Updated: July 4, 2013 at 7:10 am
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Sen. John Morse (Dem.) of Colorado Springs addresses the senate during the opening day of the Colorado State Legislature was on Wednesday, January 12, 2011. Morse is the majority leader of the senate. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)

Petitions to recall Sen. John Morse and the more than 10,000 valid signatures on them met state requirements to go to ballot in coming months, Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert ruled Wednesday evening.

But there will be another procedural step before a recall election can be scheduled.

Staiert's ruling will be appealed to Denver District Court said Mark Grueskin, an elections attorney representing the challenge to the petitions.

A constituent in Morse's district challenged the petitions saying they needed to include a demand for a successor to be elected but failed to do so. Grueskin said that's a violation of recall provisions found in the constitution and state statute.

Staiert ruled that "demand" language is not required to be on a petition because it is not included in the portions of law that "strictly specify what the petition must include."

Morse, a Democrat from the central Colorado Springs Senate District 11, became the target of a recall effort after he supported gun legislation that took effect July 1 and sponsored another gun bill that failed to get support in the Senate.

He would be term-limited in 2014, but an election to oust him from office could cut his term short.

Petition gatherers exceeded the roughly 7,200 signatures needed to take the issue to voters, but it won't go to the ballot until this challenge is concluded in the courts.

"We think the people have spoken, it is very clear that they want John Morse recalled," said Jennifer Kerns, a spokeswoman for the state-wide group that led recall efforts against four legislators this summer.

Kerns said it's disappointing the election will be further delayed by legal tactics that keep the public from exercising their constitutional right to oust elected officials.

Staiert's ruling says recall elections are a fundamental right and legal interpretations must be liberally construed to protect that right.

"The people, in reserving the right of recall in the state constitution, could not have intended that the absence of a ten-word phrase on the face of a petition would invalidate the signatures of thousands of eligible electors," Staiert wrote.

But Grueskin said that Staiert's decision was a stretch of legal interpretation.

"I don't think anyone believes the language in this statute is ambiguous," Grueskin said. "Certainly the Court of Appeals didn't think it was ambiguous 11 years ago."

Grueskin referenced a Court of Appeals case on this very issue - whether a petition was invalid because it didn't demand for an election of a successor.

In that case the court assumed the language was required but mostly ruled on whether or not the case should still be brought before the court even though the election had already occurred and failed.

"The appeals court never addressed the central issue of this hearing regarding the "demand" language," Staiert said.

Contact Megan Schrader

719-286-0644

Twitter: @CapitolSchrader

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Megan Schrader

The Gazette

719-286-0644

Twitter: @CapitolSchrader

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