DENVER—The Colorado state legislature returns in less than four months, but calls are surfacing for the governor to convene a special session to tackle issues that may not be able to wait.
In a Sunday editorial, the Colorado Springs Gazette urged Gov. John Hickenlooper to convene a special session in order to amend the state’s newly approved voter law, the Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act, also known as House Bill 1303.
“The new law undoes traditional checks and balances that have kept elections fair,” said the editorial. “Gone are assurances that only lawful residents of a jurisdiction get to vote in an election. Before HB1303, only the tinfoil hat crowd worried much about election fraud. Today, with HB1303, it’s a legitimate concern.”
Meanwhile, columnist Dave Diepenbrock of Colorado Peak Politics called Monday for a special session to deal with another issue: appropriating funds to cover the costs of disaster relief in the wake of this month’s epic Front Range floods.
“One thing is clear. Colorado cannot dawdle. What to do is obvious,” he said in the post. “Our legislature appropriated a billion dollar reserve to education without requiring outcome improvements in our state’s schools. That money should be reappropriated in special session to disaster response.”
Convening a special session is viewed as an extraordinary measure, but Hickenlooper has done it before. Last year, he called a special session in May, shortly after the legislature adjourned, in order to give more time for legislators to consider a civil-unions bill.
There’s a precedent in state history for legislators to reconvene in the event of a natural disaster. Diepenbrock said that the state legislature held a special session to approve a temporary tax increase in response to the floods of 1965.
In the case of the elections law, waiting until January would mean the new rules would be in force for the Nov. 5 election, including a controversial section that appears to allow voters to cast ballots outside their jurisdictions by affirming that they intend to move.
Critics say the law creates an opportunity for campaigns to shuffle so-called “gypsy voters” to different jurisdictions in tight elections, a scenario raised but left unresolved during the Sept. 10 recall campaign.
“This gives almost any Coloradan–especially those among us who are willing to lie–an easy opportunity to vote in local elections. Want to pass or kill a local school tax? Bring in voters willing to state an ‘intention’ to move,” said the Gazette. “Want to undo a municipal gun law? Ask impassioned gun-rights activists to show up and state their intentions to move. Supporters of Morse and Giron may never know whether out-of-jurisdiction voting hurt their senators, though no good evidence suggests it did.”
The debate culminated Sept. 7 when Independence Institute president Jon Caldara cast a blank ballot in early voting on the Colorado Springs recall, even though he has long lived in Boulder. Caldara said he voted in the Morse recall in order to prove a point.
Democrats insist that H.B. 1303, which makes mail-in voting the norm and allows same-day registration, does not open the door for gypsy voting. The episode prompted ProgressNow-Colorado to call for the El Paso County District Attorney to file charges against Caldara, but El Paso County Clerk Wayne Williams has yet to identify the vote as a violation of the new elections law.
Caldara said he supports a special session to clean up H.B. 1303, which was approved by the Democratic legislature with no Republican votes.
“I don’t know if there’s enough time, but they made a mess and it needs to be rectified,” said Caldara. “If it’s at all possible to do it before the next election, we need to do so.”
The Gazette editorial predicted that tightening up the law would take no longer than a few hours, but would “prevent lawsuits and additional public anxiety.”
So far Hickenlooper has not commented on the requests for a special session.
“Here’s a message to the governor: It was a fast and furious legislative session. I get that,” said Caldara. “You signed a faulty bill into law. Mistakes happen, but a bigger mistake would be to ignore it.”