Predicting Morse recall result is difficult

June 10, 2013 Updated: June 10, 2013 at 7:46 am
photo - Colorado Senate Majority Leader John Morse, D-District 11, poses for a picture in downtown Colorado Springs, Friday, Jan. 6, 2012.   (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
Colorado Senate Majority Leader John Morse, D-District 11, poses for a picture in downtown Colorado Springs, Friday, Jan. 6, 2012. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)  

Senate President John Morse may have a national audience for his potential recall election in coming months, but it's the 84,206 voters in central Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs who will have final say in the Democrat's future.

Senate District 11 - split almost in thirds by registered Democrats, Republicans and independent voters - is a tough read.

Here are the conflicting statistics from the El Paso County Clerk and Recorders office:

- Fifty-nine percent of voters in the district voted for President Barack Obama in 2012.

- The only four precincts in the 5th Congressional District to vote against Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn last year when he didn't have a Democratic challenger were in Senate District 11.

- Thirty percent of the district voted for Tom Tancredo, from the American Constitutional Party, in the 2010 governor's race.

- Morse won re-election in 2010 over Republican challenger Owen Hill by only 340 votes.

It appears likely the question will head to voters in the coming month, because only 7,200 of the 16,000 signatures turned in Monday must be found valid. The Secretary of State's Office has two more weeks to verify the signatures.

The district that elected Morse in 2010 is not the same district that will decide whether to keep him in office.

Redistricting in 2011 added voters to Senate District 11, and while on the map the change is small, it has added slightly more liberals to the district, according to statistics from the reapportionment committee.

So if the district's past can tell us little about Morse's chances at the ballot box, perhaps the history of recall elections across the nation can.

Joshua Spivak, a senior fellow at the Hugh L. Carey Institute for Government Reform at Wagner College in New York, has spent the last 15 years studying the spattering of recall elections that occur every year across the nation.

According to Spivak's data, 36 state legislators have been the subject of recalls in U.S. history, and of those 18 stayed in office and 18 were thrown out.

But Spivak said that data is skewed by Wisconsin's 13 legislative recall attempts in 2011 where only four were successful.

Generally, the odds are tilted against the elected official facing a recall, he said.

"An incumbent running for office wins 70 to 80 percent of the time, and this really reverses that," Spivak said.

Of 168 elected officials from school board members to the governor of Wisconsin who faced recall elections in 2012, Spivak said 82 officials were ousted by voters and 26 resigned before the recall took place.

"If it's a special election, frequently the turnout will be depressed," Spivak said. "And the hard-cores and the people who are very interested in the subject, they're motivated."

Having cash for the airwaves is important, but blanket advertising in Colorado Springs will reach many voters who do not live in Morse's Senate district. Thus, beyond the airwaves, the opposing sides in the recall will have to rely on a ground game - door-belling and getting out the vote.

Will Morse's status as president of the Colorado Senate mean anything?

Historically, those in leadership positions have fared better against recall efforts. Of the four lawmakers who have faced recalls while holding positions similar to Morse's as the leader of the Democrats, only one has been recalled successfully.

So if Senate District 11 can't anticipate the result of this ouster attempt, what can they expect?

A whole lot of money, Spivak says.

"They are frequently more expensive than other races because there's a focus on them that isn't there for others," he said. "In my mind they are fantastic public-private partnerships with lots of out-of-state money pouring in . you only wish you could do this on a regular basis."

Just under $200,000 has been raised by both sides combined. And the El Paso County Clerk and Recorders Office has estimated the cost of a potential recall election would cost taxpayers about $152,000.


Contact Megan Schrader


Twitter: @CapitolSchrader

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