DENVER — Democrats and Republicans are trailing divergent paths in reaction to the shock ruling here Monday evening by a district court judge that will force the state to rewrite recall ballots with less than a month to go before Election Day.
Democrats are appalled and are appealing the ruling. Republicans are forging ahead with stiff upper lips.
“Thousands of people will be disenfranchised with this style of election,” Pueblo Democratic County Clery Gilbert Ortiz told The Denver Post. “They’re expecting mail ballots and will not get them. Voters for a month have been informed this will be an all-mail election and it’s not going to happen.”
“This recall process has had more curve balls than a baseball game,” wrote Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler in a Wednesday release.
“[N]ow we must prepare for in-person voting and several shortened timelines. Voters should know this: we will adjust. We will manage this election, just like past recall elections. And every eligible voter will have the chance to cast a ballot on September 10.”
Insiders say the reactions are most clearly viewed through the lens of partisan politics.
They say de facto party representatives like Gessler and Ortiz are motivated by the same priorities that have characterized the heated election-administration and voting-rights debate that have erupted in Colorado and around the country in recent months. Generally, Democrats want to increase turnout, which in Colorado has mainly meant increasing the use of mail ballots; and Republicans want to ensure the integrity of the vote, which has meant restricting the use of mail ballots and opposing streamlined voter-registration policies.
The partisan-politics assessment is not surprising.
The recall movement targeting state Democratic Senators John Morse of Colorado Springs and Angela Giron of Pueblo are the product of high-octane partisanship generated by the introduction of gun-control laws passed in the spring. And on the heels of the debate over the gun laws came another fierce debate over a sweeping election reform law, HB 1303, which was supported by the vast majority of clerks, including Ortiz, and opposed by Republicans led by Gessler and El Paso County Clerk Wayne Williams — the two men now mostly representing Republican views of the recall elections.
Those elections, scheduled for September 10, were supposed to be the first in the state to benefit from the provisions of the election-reform law. A main provision of the law is that ballots be mailed to all eligible voters. Last week, the recall ballots were printed and mailed to overseas voters. On Monday, they were invalidated by the judge. It now appears voters in the recall elections may have to vote in person.
Gessler wants Coloradans to know he’s soldiering on.
“I strongly opposed that law, but I nonetheless defended it in court,” he wrote in his release. “A judge disagreed…
“[He] may have thrown us a curve, but in Colorado we have a can-do attitude. Voters can be confident the recall elections will be conducted with integrity and every eligible voter will have a chance to vote.”
Colorado Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call wishes lawmakers last spring would have taken GOP concern to heart.
We warned Democrats of the “grave consequences that would arise if they rammed through shoddy election reform legislation,” he said. “They ignored us.”
Christy Le Lait, former director of the El Paso County Democratic Party now campaign manager for A Whole Lot of People for John Morse, conceded Republicans might be expected to grumble about the judge making room on the ballot for libertarian candidates who might split the vote on the right. But the thing the ruling is sure to do if it holds up, she said, is to lower voter turnout, which is something Republicans have long believed works to their advantage.
“You would think that they’d be more concerned not about a libertarian on the ballot but about allowing as many people as possible to vote. That’s what the Republicans should be upset about. Shouldn’t we all want every eligible voter to come out and vote?”
Le Lait is concerned that the court decision provides Gessler with additional opportunity to influence the administration of the elections. The ruling she says in effect tasks Gessler with setting new rules to replace those established by the law that has effectively been placed on hold.
“Part of the judge’s ruling that everyone looked at with concern is how Gessler gets to just make the rules in this election. It gives him a lot of power,” she said.
Gessler’s office has announced a public meeting Thursday afternoon on the new recall election schedule.
“The Secretary of State is developing guidance for both affected counties, which may include emergency rules,” it reads.
Ryan Parsell, spokesman for the El Paso clerk’s office, seemed most ready to leave politics out of it. He was more concerned about whatever next recall curve ball might already be hurtling his way.
“All I can say at this point is we’re concentrating on preparing for the election,” he said. “We’re keeping an eye on any appeals filed by other parties and we’ll make a determination on how best to represent the voters of El Paso County as things pan out.”