DENVER – The state Senate on Tuesday passed a controversial local elections measure after two days of spirited debate that began and ended with tirades by the bill’s sponsor Sen. Jessie Ulibarri demanding that the attorney general prosecute Independence Institute President Jon Caldara for voter fraud.
In an attempt to demonstrate that last year’s election reform law passed by Democrats was open to fraud, Caldara claimed his intent to move from Boulder to Colorado Springs, registered to vote and cast a blank ballot in the recall of ex-Senate President John Morse in September.
“We should all be enraged and livid about that,” said Ulibarri (D-Commerce City). “We should be ensuring that he is prosecuted to the full extent of the law for committing voter fraud.”
“What he did was deplorable,” Ulibarri said.
HB 1164, sponsored by Ulibarri and House Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst (D-Longmont), creates the “Colorado Local Government Election Code” for municipal, special district and school district elections.
The bill was drafted to harmonize special district elections with HB 1303, which was passed last year to eliminate confusion over residency requirements, said Ulibarri.
Like HB 1303, the new local government code requires all-mail ballot elections and allows voters to register and cast a ballot on the day of the election. Eligible voters must live in the election district for 22 days and new registrants must attest to their residency and intent to live in the district or municipality.
Republican lawmakers didn’t like HB 1303 and even less its offspring that passed Tuesday, which deems the Secretary of State’s office won’t oversee the local elections, poll watchers must live in the district, elections may be run by contracted firms and property tax questions will no longer appear on the November general election ballot.
“We’re talking about voter fraud. We’re talking about how Jon Caldera committed voter fraud as a justification for this bill or why we should move forward with prosecution,” said Sen. Ted Harvey (R-Highlands Ranch), sounding incredulous. “Under (HB 1303) he did not commit voter fraud.”
According to the law passed last year, Harvey said, “anybody can legally manipulate the election process and vote somewhere where they really don’t have any intent to live. All they have to say is that I intend to live to here.”
Harvey said that problem and others could have been fixed last year, but Democratic senators rejected more than a hundred Republican amendments to HB 1303. And now, that bill’s flaws are rolled into HB 1164.
Minority Leader Bill Cadman was also steamed over Ulibarri casting dispersions on Caldara.
“Last time I looked I didn’t see where (Caldara) was charged or convicted, and I’m pretty sure we don’t have the authority to make those determinations as a senator or a lawyer or both,” said Cadman. “We can’t just stand up here and say that someone is a criminal as if it were so.”
Responded Ulibarri: “The majority leader is right. (Caldera) was not convicted; he was not even tried for that crime. But the facts indicate he intended to defraud our election system and he boasted of such on his radio show and on TV and in public.”
Calling it a conspiracy to commit election fraud, Ulibarri claimed that Caldara produced a fake lease as proof that he was living in the basement of former state Rep. Mark Barker’s home in Colorado Springs.
Ulibarri said he’d “love” to work with Democrats and Republicans to draft bills to increase penalties for voter fraud and abettors who “offer their basement as a fake residence.”
“We need to have a serious discussion about voter integrity, but that’s not in this bill,” said Ulibarri, who added that he felt “maligned here over and over” by Republican critics of HB 1164.
Caldara tweeted, “I wish to thank @jessie4CO, @hickforco and all the good lawmakers of the #coleg for expanding my legal voting rights.”