Published: March 24, 2014
DENVER - Whether they were testifying for or against a bill that aims to change the recall election timeline in Colorado law, everyone agreed Friday that the chaotic September recall elections in Pueblo and Colorado Springs were a fiasco.
Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, said Senate Bill 158 is necessary to clarify recall election laws, to clear up conflicts and allow elections to run smoothly.
He said in both the recall of Sen. John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, and Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, voter turnout was low because of a court ruling less than a month before election day that effectively blocked ballots from being mailed to voters.
He said only 21 percent of eligible voters in Senate District 11 and 36 percent in Senate District 3 turned out to vote.
"Both of those are 20 percent blow the 2012 election," Jones said. "Literally thousands of people did not cast ballots. Nobody benefits from chaos, especially voters."
Co-sponsor of the bill Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, said that the right to oust elected officials through a recall election has been a part of the Colorado Constitution for more than 100 years.
"The bill does not change the thresholds or requirements for initiating a recall election," Steadman said. "What the bill does is make the process easier to administer, fill gaps and make it easier for voters to exercise their right to vote."
The bill defines "election day" as the day that voting starts. Colorado law allows for early voting and mail voting to occur in the weeks before leading up to the actual day of the election, the day polls close.
The new definition would give election officials more time to print ballots and mail them out, given that the Colorado Constitution allows candidates to petition onto the ballot within 15 days of "election day."
Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert said she agrees something needs to be done with conflicting dates in the recall election law, but she said the state Constitution dictates that only a vote of the people can make such changes.
"I really believe that. That's where the analysis has to end," Staiert said. "I'm just here to say that we have already been through this, and I don't think the Legislature has the authority to do what you are attempting to do here."
The conflict between the Constitution and state statute came out last summer when the state faced recall elections of statewide officials for the first time.
Judge Robert McGahey ruled in a lawsuit filed by candidates who wished to get on the recall ballot as successor candidates that election officials must adhere to a timeline laid out in the Constitution for recall elections. That timeline didn't leave enough time for ballots to be mailed to every registered voter, but, instead, went only to those who requested special mail ballots.
El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Wayne Williams said that by changing the timeline for a recall election, SB158 would allow an elected official to stay in office 22 days longer than intended by the recall election law.
He said the bill was a work-around bill that didn't meet constitutional muster.
"I would ask the Legislature to trust the people," Williams said, who is running for secretary of state.
The bill passed out of the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on a 3-2 vote party-line vote with Republicans opposing the bill.
Sitting on the committee is Sen. Bernie Herpin, R-Colorado Springs, who was elected the successor of Morse when he was successfully recalled in September.
Herpin voted against the bill.
Contact Megan Schrader