DENVER – District Judge Robert McGahey threw a wrench in the recall elections of Democrats Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs and Sen. Angela Giron of Pueblo – ruling that Colorado’s election reform law is “flawed” because it conflicts with the state constitution.
McGahey ruled Monday in favor of a Libertarian Party challenge asserting candidates had been denied access to the recall ballot in violation of the state constitution.
The constitution grants 15 days for candidates to gather petition signatures from eligible voters – and that conflicts with House Bill 1303, a controversial elections law rewrite sponsored earlier this year by Giron and Democrat Reps. Dickey Lee Hullinghorst of Longmont and Dan Pabon of Denver. Morse had signed on as a co-sponsor.
Giron and HB 1303 supporters claimed the elections reform measure ensured all Colorado voters would have maximum access to the ballot. Republican legislators argued the bill opened the door to election fraud because it allows same-day voter registration and requires ballots to be mailed to all registered voters.
McGahey’s ruling could disenfranchise an estimated 900 military members serving overseas who are eligible to vote in the recall elections of Giron in Senate District 3 and Morse in Senate District 11.
SD 3 Republican candidate George Rivera said the ruling is “proof that legislation that is poorly written and hastily passed will invariably result in dreadful unintended consequences.
“The tragedy in this comedy of errors is that the men and women of our military, the very ones who are overseas defending our freedoms will not be able to cast their ballot in this election,” declared Rivera in a statement.
Republican candidate Bernie Herpin in SD 11, a retired Naval and Air Force officer, said that it would be “shameful” if overseas military men and women are denied the right to vote.
“Today, my son-in-law who serves in the Navy received his ballot in the mail,” said Herpin in a media release. Because the judge ruled HB 1303 is unconstitutional, “my son-in-law’s vote could be invalidated.”
Morse’s co-sponsorship of “radical legislation is yet another example of why he must be recalled,” declared Herpin.
After Hickenlooper set the recall election for Sept. 10, Herpin and Rivera successfully garnered more than enough petition signatures from Republican voters in their districts within the 10-day threshold.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Gordon Butt, a Libertarian who wants to run as a replacement if voters recall Morse, and Richard Anglund, a Democrat who aims to replace Giron.
“I am happy with the ruling,” said Butt, who was vacationing in Canada on Tuesday. “We don’t have a lot of campaign funds, but we do have a small team of petition circulators through the El Paso County Libertarian Party.”
“We’re taking on a seasoned politician,” said Butt, a security systems engineer. “I’m very much for gun rights – I own two guns. It’s all about personal responsibility.”
Butt said the ruling is another example of legislation that Morse pushed through the Senate this year. The elections reform bill, he said, “was a rush and way too hasty.”
Anglund, Butt and other interested candidates will have until Aug. 26 to turn in petitions.
Unlike Democrat and Republican contenders, Butt is a member of a minor party and can collect petition signatures from any voter, unaffiliated or affiliated with a political party. Rivera and Herpin could only collect nominating petition signatures from Republicans.
Because of the tight turnaround to print ballots, El Paso County Clerk Wayne Williams and Pueblo County Clerk Gilbert “Bo” Ortiz will not be able to mail ballots and will have to spend more money for in-person elections at voting centers.
Williams and Ortiz are working on a solution to ensure that overseas military members will be able to vote.
“Republicans warned Sen. Morse, Sen. Giron and Gov. Hickenlooper of the grave consequences that would arise if they rammed through their shoddy election reform legislation,” said state GOP Chair Ryan Call. “They ignored us.”
Arguing against passage of HB 1303 during a 4-hour debate on the Senate floor earlier this year, Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman chided Morse, Giron and the Democrat lawmakers.
“You’re already winning the elections,” said Cadman of Colorado Springs. “Do you need to steal them too?”