September 5, 2013 Updated: September 5, 2013 at 6:05 pm
Almost 3,580 voters cast ballots Thursday in the first day of early voting for the recall election of Sen. John Morse, D-Colorado Springs.
The recall election was kicked off with some long lines at voting centers, but the waits tapered off in the afternoon and stayed low or non-existent through the evening.
Voters in Senate District 11, which encompasses much of central Colorado Springs and stretches west to Manitou Springs, are deciding whether to keep Morse - a senior senator and sitting Senate president - in office or to oust him. Then voters also get to decide who should replace Morse if he is recalled. The only candidate on the ballot is Republican Bernie Herpin, a former city councilman.
Voters in Senate District 3 have to make the same decision for Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo. Her potential replacement is George Rivera, a retired deputy chief of police.
Morse and Giron were targeted for recalls by the Basic Freedom Defense Fund after they supported gun legislation during the 2013 legislative session that later became law. Constituents of the two lawmakers - Rob Harris and Victor Head - launched the petition gathering process to collecting thousands of valid signatures to force the recall elections in the two districts.
Election day is Sept. 10, but voters have three more days of early voting to cast ballots ahead of anticipated long lines on Tuesday.
The weeks leading up to the election have been confusing, particularly given a slew of court rulings that continued to change how the election would be administered.
Despite the ever-changing rules, the first day went off without any serious problems.
Ryan Parsell, spokesman for the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder, said the four early voting centers will open at 7:30 a.m. Friday.
He wanted to remind the public that two motor vehicle offices - Southeast Powers branch and downtown Centennial Hall branch - are only open as voting centers and the public cannot go to these locations for other business such registering vehicles or obtaining records.
Parsell said turnout has been healthy so far compared with previous elections in Senate District 11.
"To put it in perspective we had 3,200 participate in early voting on one of our busier days when it was a presidential election," Parsell said. "You're talking about 6 percent of everybody who voted in the presidential election from Senate District 11 having already voted."
By the end of the day 1,081 Democrats had cast ballots Thursday compared with 1,617 Republicans. Independent or unaffiliated voters had a smaller turnout - 839 - although that is the single largest category of registered voter in the district.
At last count there were 69,481 registered voters in Senate District 11 and of those 26,725 were unaffiliated, 23,344 Democrats, 18,174 Republicans and the rest third-party voters.
But residents in Senate District 11 can still register to vote up through election day, as part of a new law passed last legislative session enabling same-day voter registration. Before HB 1303 became law, voters had to register 29 days before the election.
Parsell said the voter registration wasn't an issue on the first day and to his knowledge wasn't used at the busiest centers.
Conservative political analyst Jon Caldara, however, announced he will use same-day voter registration.
Caldara, president of the Independence Institute, lives in Boulder, well outside Morse's district, but he said he intends to move into Senate District 11 and under the new law that is sufficient to allow him register and vote.
"It is my belief that this extremely sloppy new election law was designed to legally move voters into districts where their vote is most useful," Caldara said, declining to say when he plans to move to Colorado Springs. "I will show how this dangerous new law works by easily and legally voting."
Christy Le Lait, spokeswoman for A Whole Lot of People for John Morse, said that sounds like a felony.
"I don't know what he's hoping to prove," Le Lait said. "I'm at a loss."
Caldara said he's looking forward to living in Colorado Springs - "It's spectacular."
More than 1,459 emergency, absentee and overseas military ballots were mailed out. Those can be returned to any of the voting service centers in person, in addition to being mailed back.
Other glitches Thursday came from people not knowing whether they lived in Senate District 11 or not. Some confusion stemmed from School District 11 - the city's largest district - also having had recall elections for school board members in the past. The two districts are unrelated and voter should check a map at http://car.elpasoco.com/election/documents/Senate11.pdf.
Voters were lined up at the polls in Colorado Springs at 8 a.m. Thursday. The line at Centennial Hall was at least 50 people long just after 10:30 a.m. on Thursday and it kept growing into early afternoon.
Kirk Lisuzzo, who proudly wore his "I voted" sticker as he left the polls, said it only took him 15 minutes to get through the line, but noted, "It's a lot bigger now," just before 11 a.m. Lisuzzo said he cast a vote for no recall of Morse.
"John Morse did the right thing in my eyes," he said recalling a gun ban where he lived west of Chicago in the 1970s.
Lisuzzo said once only police officers were allowed to carry guns in Oak Park, Ill. "it made it safer." He said he was 18 years old at the time and said violent crime went down almost immediately.
Deborah Crawford was leaving Centennial Hall with Lisuzzo, but said she had a different opinion.
"I grew up in a family of conscientious objectors," she said. "We never had guns and I would not be comfortable carrying a gun, nevertheless I feel very strongly about our constitutional right to
bear arms. It's one of the signature freedoms of our country. That's why we won our independence."