DENVER – Despite numerous flaws in House Bill 1164 to create a pick-and-choose special district election code, Democrats rammed it through the House and Senate and accused Republicans who opposed the measure of playing partisan politics.
The bill will be reviewed Monday by a legislative conference committee, but unknown is whether it will be delayed to rectify errors or rubberstamped and rushed to Gov. John Hickenlooper to sign into law.
“The legislature makes the law and is the authority over itself,” said Harvie Branscomb, election reform activist and co-chair of the Eagle County Democratic Party. “That leaves only the governor’s veto power to protect us.”
Colorado is struggling with numerous problems created by House Bill 1303, last year’s election reform measure.
The new law required all mail ballots to active and inactive voter, allowed same day registration to cast a ballot, and created confusion that disfranchised eligible voters in Broomfield sparking numerous complaints and lawsuits. Other counties reported possible incidents of voter fraud.
HB 1164 is sponsored by Democratic Sen. Jessie Ulibarri of Commerce City and House Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst of Longmont and aims to eliminate differing residency requirements.
However, critics assert that it compromises local elections because of conflicts in state statutes and the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) constitutional amendment.
Ulibarri said their bill is being rushed through the legislature to accommodate municipal, special district and school board election officials who need new guidelines set into law by Monday.
“Manufactured crises should not drive the passage of incredibly flawed legislation,” said Marilyn Marks, a cofounder of the watchdog group Citizen Center that oversees the integrity of elections.
Marks said the Democratic sponsors misled the legislature to believe the urgency was because special district elections utilize the state’s municipal election code that needed to be aligned with HB 1303 – but most have been orchestrated under the uniform election code.
“Senator Ulibarri has apparently sponsored this bill and led the debate and garnered his caucus’ support for this bill based on the egregiously wrong claim that special districts have conducted their elections under the outdated 1965 Municipal Code, rather than the updated uniform election code that controls federal, state, county, special district and school district elections and many municipal elections,” Marks said in an email to legislators.
Opponents of the bill say that if it is signed into law, the result will be expensive litigation – a tab paid by taxpayers – for the courts to decide contested measures.
Democrats were disenchanted when Republicans Rep. Carole Murray of Castle Rock and Sen. Ellen Roberts of Durango removed their names as prime sponsors of the measure.
“The bill was moving through the process relatively quietly until pressure from extreme outside interests and Republican leadership forced a sudden 180 by the Republican bill sponsors, turning what was a consensus-driven process into a partisan brouhaha overnight,” declared communication directors Dean Toda for the Senate majority and Doug Schepman in the House majority in a statement last week.
However, Branscomb lamented that, “Legislators, in this case unfortunately Democrats, are so overcome with partisan political intention or desire to defend other government bureaucrats that the creation of a rational beneficial non-partisan law about elections seems impossible.”
Murray, a former county clerk and recorder, told The Colorado Observer earlier this month that HB 1164 would repeat the errors of HB 1303 and open the door to voter fraud whether accidentally or purposefully.
“I hated that law (HB 1303) and I still hate it,” she declared.
Roberts set the record straight Friday on the Senate floor, saying she had been mislead into believing the new legislation was condoned by the members of the County Clerks Association of Colorado, which was not entirely true.
“No one bullies me. I make my own decisions and I do not support this bill,” declared Roberts, who said she had consulted county clerks in Senate District 6 that is comprised of eight counties in Southwest Colorado.
Roberts said that HB1164 was written to serve the interests of Front Range voters versus the electorate in rural counties in Colorado.
The bill would allow special district elections to be run by privately contracted firms in Denver which would make it very difficult for voters to cast their ballots in person and watchers who must be from the local jurisdiction to oversee the election process.
“The war on rural Colorado continues and frankly just got turned up one notch – and that is unfortunate,” said Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman of Colorado Springs.