Gessler, Williams Spar Over Primary Election Requirements

May 2, 2012
hugovk / Foter

COLORADO SPRINGS– Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler filed a lawsuit Tuesday against El Paso County Clerk & Recorder Wayne Williams who cancelled the June 26 primaries of the Democratic and American Constitution parties – neither party has contested races.

Gessler and Williams, both attorneys, have different interpretations of a 2009 election law that opens the door to canceling primary elections when a party has one or no candidate running for an office. They met twice last week to hash out their differences, but Gessler maintained that Williams cannot cancel a party’s primary election.

“This wasn’t a surprise. We chatted on Thursday and Friday last week and his office has a different interpretation of the law,” said Williams.

“There’s no animosity between us,” said Williams, who testified with Gessler on Tuesday in support of a bill heard by a legislative committee.

Williams said he met with the leaders of the Democrat and American Constitution parties months ago, and they agreed it would be a waste of money to print and mail primary ballots when there are no contested offices. He said the savings – $68,000 – would be invested in equipment to make early voting faster and smoother in the general election.

This is the first time the law has been used in a primary election. In 2010, the parties had U.S. Senate contests between Democrats Michael Bennett and Andrew Romanoff, and Republicans Ken Buck and Jane Norton. U.S. Sen. Bennett defeated Buck in the general.

This year, El Paso County Republican voters have primaries in the 5th Congressional District race between U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn and businessman Robert Blaha, as well as contests in Senate District 10 and House Districts 19 and 21.

Williams noted that the Democrats in the county are not fielding candidates for several offices.   The American Constitution Party, which qualified as a major party after its gubernatorial candidate former Congressman Tom Tancredo garnered nearly 40 percent of the statewide vote two years ago, has no contested races.

Rich Coolidge, public information officer for the secretary of state, told the Colorado Springs Gazette that this “is a declaratory action. 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.”

Williams said that taxpayer money should be spent for election purposes – not to promote a candidate’s name ID in a non-contested race.

The legal challenge was filed in El Paso County, and Williams hopes a decision will be rendered before May 11 when overseas ballots must be mailed.

Williams said that in April, two of five municipal elections were cancelled, and last November, six of 17 school districts cancelled elections because each district had just enough candidates for the open seats.

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