Election reform all the way down

Recall by mail gets initial approval in Senate

The Biebs may not, but Colorado voters sometimes do and bill sponsors say the process could be better.
The Biebs may not, but Colorado voters sometimes do and bill sponsors say the process could be better.

The Senate took up SB 158 today, a bill to bring recall election law into concordance with the state constitution while still allowing for mail-in ballots. The measure also syncs the language around recall petitioner training and transparency with current guidelines for the ballot initiative petition processes.

“SB 158 arises out of last year’s experience with recall efforts targeting members of the General Assembly,” the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Pat Steadman of Denver, acknowledged right off the bat.

“That election process last summer was not what anyone would call smooth or ideal,” he added, noting that the elections resulted in four separate court cases. Those included one case that made mail-in balloting impossible due to timing and another that found the recall ballots themselves unconstitutional because a constituent had to vote for the recall in order to be able to cast a second vote for a particular successor candidate.

SB 158 would remove the unconstitutional two-part construction of the recall ballots. It would define the Colorado constitution’s language of “date for holding the election” as the first day clerks send out mail-ballots in order to accommodate the constitution’s provision that successor candidates have until 15 days before the election to petition onto the ballot without making it impossible for clerks to conduct an all mail election.

Supporters of the bill feel it’s a critically important, and fair, response to what they call the chaos of last summer’s recall elections.

“A county clerk testified in committee that they thought voters were disenfranchised,” said Sen. Matt Jones of Louisville, the bill’s co-sponsor, noting that not having mail ballots makes it hard or even impossible for elderly, disabled, single parent, rural and military or overseas voters to cast a ballot.

Not having mail-in ballots significantly lowered voter turnout in both recall elections, Jones said, pointing out that the turnout rates of 21 percent in Colorado Springs and 36 percent in Pueblo were both about 20 percent lower than average in those districts.

Sen. Bill Cadman of Colorado Springs argued that it’s not the legislature’s job to increase voter turnout so much as to protect the validity of each vote. He strongly opposed the bill saying it was an invitation to voter fraud and also an attempt to work around the “inconvenient truth” that the constitution makes mail-balloting impossible in recall elections.

“We need to refer a measure to the people. This is clearly unconstitutional, what we’re trying to do with this bill,” said Sen. Scott Renfroe of Eaton. He called upon the Governor to veto the reform if it should make it all the way to his desk.

Other opponents of the recall election reform said the issues didn’t start with the constitution at all.

“Were the recall elections chaos because the constitution put in place a scenario that could not be met? Did a constitution that’s been in place for for 100 years create the chaos, or was it statue in place for 10 months that caused the chaos?” asked Sen. Ted Harvey of Douglas County, referring to the passage of the election reform and modernization law passed last session that, in part, instituted all-mail ballots.

Ultimately the recall reform bill’s sponsors asserted that their legislation was intended to insure Colorado voters not just their constitutional right to recall elected officials, but also their doubly — state and federal — constitutional right to vote in the first place. They argued that the measure would not make it harder to initiate a recall, but only make it easier for clerks to conduct a recall election and for voters to cast their ballots.

“I believe we all hold dear that participation by the citizens in our democracy is where we draw the strength of democracy,” said Steadman, urging support for the reforms.

The Senate gave the measure initial approval on an unrecorded voice vote.

Now we really know what voter fraud is: felonious and super expensive 

It was election reform day on the Senate floor as Sen. Jessie Ulibarri of Commerce City brought forward SB 161, an election reform clean-up bill with an added bite: ramping up charges for voter fraud.

In addition to clarifying timelines and voting procedures around registration and bringing Colorado’s state-wide elections into concordance with federal guidelines for military and overseas voters, the bill makes it a class five felony to tamper with a ballot box or give false information when registering to vote. Class five felonies are punishable by up to two years in prison and $100,000 in fines. The bill also adds a new felony, aiding and abetting voter fraud, as a class six felony with a maximum of 18 months in prison and the potential for that same $100,000 fine.

“If someone tries to defraud our system, there will be penalties,” said Ulibarri, noting that the bill also includes clarifying language in the affidavits voters sign when they register to vote in a particular district to insure that primary residence means the voter sleeps at the location, keeps his or her possessions there, etc.

This legislation, like SB 158, arises partially as a result of last summer’s “chaotic” recall elections in which some prominent cases of alleged voter fraud made headlines.

Sen. Ted Harvey of Douglas County brought forward several amendments primarily targeted towards tightening ballot and voter security through limits on who can deliver ballots for another voter, how ballot boxes are monitored and whether the ballots themselves contain too much identifying information. All Harvey’s amendments were rejected, with opponents saying they put up unnecessary roadblocks in voting and that ballot privacy measures already exist in statute.

Ultimately SB 161 was also granted initial approval by the Senate.

That’s Madam President 

It’s Women’s History Honth and in honor of it Sen. Nancy Todd of Aurora brought forward a resolution and called the women of the Senate down to the well in celebration.

As she passed the measure to the President, Sen. Morgan Carol of Aurora, to record the vote, Todd said, “I do like the ring of that, Madam President.”

Carroll is the second female President of the Senate. The first, in 2005, was Joan Fitz-Gerald.