Sweating signatures? Three Colorado governor candidates still await their ballot fate

As Stapleton complicates Robinson’s world, Polis gives a lifeline to Lynne

Sweating signatures? Three Colorado governor candidates still await their ballot fate

With the Democratic and Republican assemblies over, three candidates are still in a holding pattern— or holding their breath— waiting to see whether they, too, will qualify for the June 26 primary ballot. In the meantime, a domino effect on both sides of the aisle is causing repercussions for campaigns as they wait, and one is lashing out at the Secretary of State. 

As it stands right now, retired investment banker Doug Robinson still doesn’t know if his campaign was able to gather the 10,500 valid Republican petition signatures he’ll need to see his name on the ballot. Neither does entrepreneur and former GOP lawmaker Victor Mitchell.

Also waiting in the wings is Democratic Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne.

In Colorado, there are two ways a candidate for governor can get on the primary ballot. They can go through the state assembly process and get 30 percent of the vote from party delegates, which some chose to do. Or they can petition on by gathering 10,500 valid signatures.

Campaigns do this often by hiring firms who specialize in contracting with temporary workers to canvass the state in parking lots, outside grocery stores or on college campuses, trying to persuade voters to help their client get on the ballot. This year, under new rules because of a fraud fiasco in a 2016 GOP U.S. Senate primary, the Secretary of State’s office is putting much more scrutiny on the process for verifying valid signatures.

On Saturday, two Republicans made the ballot through the assembly: State Treasurer Walker Stapleton and former Parker Mayor Greg Lopez.

On the Democratic side, former State Treasurer Cary Kennedy and Boulder Congressman Jared Polis made it onto the ballot through the assembly process. Former State Sen. Mike Johnston already qualified for the ballot via petitions.

That leaves Robinson, Mitchell, and Lynne biting their nails.

Recent events, however, should give Lynne some breathing room, and leave Robinson breathing into a paper bag.

Here’s why: Rules in the petition-gathering game stipulate that if a voter signs petitions for two candidates, the signatures only count for the candidate who hands in his or her petitions first. On the Republican side, Stapleton handed in petitions just before Robinson, but then last week (because of Robinson— long story) he wound up admitting fraud in his gathering process and asked the Secretary of State’s office to scrap them. Stapleton’s only shot for the ballot was to go through Saturday’s assembly, which he successfully did. In a way, that sounded like good news for Robinson— Stapleton’s signatures might not count against his.

Not so fast.

Even though Stapleton asked for his petitions to be pulled, the signatures on them still count since the Secretary of State already had determined they were sufficient, said Secretary of State spokeswoman Lynn Bartels.

That leaves a slimmer margin of error for the Robinson team as workers in an office building in Pueblo double-check his signatures to make sure they are valid and don’t include Republicans who already signed for Stapleton.

On the Democratic side, the same rules are working in Lynne’s favor.

Polis, whose campaign fanned the state and hoovered up some 30,000 signatures— far more than the 10,500 he needed— seemed like he could have been also creating a bit of a defense shield with them. Remember, signatures of voters who sign only count for the first candidate to turn them in. Polis turned his in before Lynne, slimming her margin of error.

But.

Polis then decided to also go through Saturday’s assembly, where he earned himself a spot on the ballot by getting more than 30 percent of the vote among delegates. Polis’s signatures were still being counted at the time he won, and as soon as he made the ballot through the assembly, the Secretary of State’s office stopped counting them.

That means all of Polis’s 30,000 signatures are back in circulation— and are now able to count for Lynne.

“We’re proud of the work our volunteers, interns and staff put into the process, and we’ve been confident from the start that we will have far more than the requisite number of signatures needed to get onto the ballot,” said Lynne’s spokesman Ethan Susseles.

As for Mitchell, his campaign handed in signatures after Stapleton and Robinson, so he wouldn’t benefit from any potential duplicates unless Robinson pulled his petitions right now, which he wouldn’t do if he wants to try and make the ballot. The Mitchell campaign was told by the Secretary of State’s office that they are in a holding pattern until the Robinson campaign’s signatures are verified or not, said Mitchell spokesman Ian Lindemann.

“We turned in a record number of petitions for any Republican candidate,” Lindemann added. “We took great lengths to make sure we did the process the correct way.”

In 2016, this whole system of gathering petitions to get on the ballot turned into a giant cluster when media and investigators found fraudulent signatures on campaign petitions. Three Republicans running for U.S. Senate in the primary that year had to sue their way onto the ballot. In Colorado, judges have seemed to lean in the favor of keeping a candidate on the ballot than keeping a candidate off.

Still, the potential for legal wrangling is a possibility. An individual has five days to challenge the Secretary of State’s decision for declaring a candidate’s petitions sufficient. 

Asked if the Stapleton campaign might consider legal action against Robinson’s effort if he gets on the ballot by a slim margin, Stapleton campaign manager Michael Fortney said no. “We’d prefer voters decide elections,” he said.

Robinson’s campaign was not happy Wednesday afternoon, calling the decision of Secretary of State Wayne Williams, a Republican, ridiculous.

“Despite being given evidence of fraud, Stapleton admitting that fraud occurred and withdrawing his petitions, the Secretary of State has decided to treat his signatures as valid,” said Robinson spokeswoman Brett Maney. “Meanwhile, Polis’ signatures were legally collected, and are not being counted against Donna Lynne. This decision is arbitrary and punishes some voters for others’ misdeeds. Their decision disenfranchises dozens of Republican voters, whose voices will now count for no one.” 

Williams said he was only following the rules, which say if a candidate’s signatures are accepted then they count.

“That is a bright line rule and that’s what we’re following,” he said, adding that not continuing to count Polis’s signatures after he qualified for the ballot also saves tax dollars.

Maney said the Robinson campaign is confident that they turned in enough valid signatures regardless of whether Stapleton’s count or not.

The Secretary of State’s office has until April 27 to let the campaigns know because that’s when the June 26 primary ballot will be certified.

Photo by Sebastien Wiertz for Creative Commons on Flickr. 

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About the Author

Corey Hutchins

is a journalist in Colorado, and Columbia Journalism Review's Rocky Mountain correspondent for the United States Project. Follow him on Twitter @CoreyHutchins and email him at CoreyHutchins [at] gmail [dot] com.

1 Comment

  1. john in denver on said:

    Someone at Colorado Pols (“Pseudonymous”) provided language of the law:

    (2) (a) For petitions to nominate candidates from a major political party in a partisan election, each signer must be affiliated with the major political party named in the petition and shall state the following to the circulator: That the signer has been affiliated with the major political party named in the petition for at least twenty-nine days as shown in the statewide voter registration system and that the signer has not signed any other petition for any other candidate for the same office. [emphasis mine]

    C.R.S. 1-4-904

    My follow-up question there, which drew several responses
    “With the language “the signer has not signed any other petition for any other candidate for the same office,” I must say, I’m confused. I’m not a lawyer and have not drafted legislation — but it seems to me the language is pretty clear. If someone signs multiple petitions, NONE of them should count.

    Can someone clarify why the current interpretation allows petition signatures to count on the first petition turned in? And if only one of the signatures counts, why don’t they count on the petition signed first (according to the date on the petition) or last (“I changed my mind. I really wanted to have Candidate B instead of my earlier signature for Candidate C.”)??

    And no, I don’t think that “because Wayne Williams and company says so” is a particularly good reason.”

    Anyone here got an answer?

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