DENVER — House Democrats approved on a 37-28 party-line vote Thursday a bill aimed at improving their odds in recall elections over the objections of Republicans, who argued that the measure violates the state constitution.
Senate Bill 158 redefines Election Day as the day that early voting begins, which would allow county clerks enough time to mail out ballots before a recall. Last year’s historic recalls were conducted as walk-in elections, prompting some Democrats to blame “voter suppression” after two Senate Democrats were ousted.
Democrats said the bill was intended to “harmonize” recall voting with last year’s sweeping elections overhaul that mandated mail-in ballots, but Republicans accused Democrats of attempting to rewrite the constitution through the legislative process.
“As legislators we all took the same oath to uphold the constitution, yet somehow the Democrats believe their current majority in the state legislature entitles them to change our constitution behind Coloradans’ backs,” said state Rep. Tim Dore (R-Elizabeth) in a statement. “Both the attorney’s general office and secretary of state’s office believe the constitutional change should be decided by Colorado voters.”
During committee hearings, Deputy Attorney General David Blake said the bill would undoubtedly draw a court challenge. The Colorado Constitution states that candidates have until 15 days before a recall election to petition onto the ballot, which makes it practicably impossible to conduct a mail-in election.
House Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst said that without the bill, soldiers and others Colorado voters living overseas would be unable to participate in recall elections.
“The right to recall is guaranteed in our constitution, and so is the right to vote,” said Hullinghorst (D-Boulder) in a statement. “Neither right should be infringed because someone is serving our country overseas in the military, or because someone is disabled. This bill removes barriers so recall elections can be conducted the same way as other elections and all registered voters receive a mail ballot.”
Only voters may amend the constitution. Republicans urged Democrats to place the proposed recall change on the ballot, but Democrats argued that the legislature has the authority to revise the rules without voter approval.
“I find it greatly disturbing Democrats feel they can ignore the plain language of the constitution to comport with their political agenda,” said state Rep. Bob Gardner (R-Colorado Springs). “Circumventing the citizens of Colorado to rewrite the constitution sets a dangerous precedent and further shows the Democrats truly tyrannical approach to legislation.”
Republicans also pointed out that Democrats have passed more than 100 pages of language aimed at fixing problems with last year’s sweeping elections overhaul, House Bill 1303, which was passed with no GOP support.
“Democracy works best when the greatest number of people participate,” Rep. Hullinghorst said. “In 2013, we saw recall elections decided by a tiny percentage of voters. This bill will increase voter participation in recalls, so that they are more democratic and representative and protect the fundamental right to vote for every Colorado citizen.”
State Sens. Angela Giron and John Morse were removed from office in the Sept. 10 recalls, which saw 36 percent voter turnout in Pueblo and 21 percent in Colorado Springs. Republicans have said that the turnout was typical for special elections, but Giron later insisted that the lack of mail-in balloting was tantamount to “voter suppression.”