Former state Rep. Jon Keyser of Morrison said, “I’m on the ballot,” 13 times last Thursday.
He was responding to questions about forged signatures on the petitions to put him on the June 28 primary ballot for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate.
As Republican Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams tells it, Keyser is correct: There’s virtually no chance the candidate’s name will come off the ballot — even if all 1520 signatures were forged, because of a court order.
What’s at issue: 13 allegedly forged signatures, part of 1,520 signatures turned in from Congressional District 1 in Denver.
To make the ballot for U.S. Senate, a candidate must obtain 1,500 signatures from each of Colorado’s seven congressional districts. Keyser’s campaign initially turned in enough signatures in six of the seven congressional districts and came up short in Congressional District 3. The signatures turned in by a Colorado Springs man were deemed invalid by the Secretary of State because the man had moved and not updated his voter registration address.
A Denver District Court judge later ruled that the disallowed petitions met the spirit of the law and allowed those signatures back in, putting Keyser on the ballot.
On May 3, liberal activist group ProgressNow announced they had found several invalid signatures and called on Williams to re-examine Keyser’s petitions. A week later, KMGH reporter Marshall Zelinger discovered ten Denver residents who said they had not signed the petitions and claimed their signatures had been forged. That number has now grown to 13.
Two more voters in Arapahoe County contacted the 18th Judicial District Attorney, George Brauchler, to say their signatures had been forged. Both Brauchler and Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey are now looking into the issue for potential criminal violations.
Keyser turned in 1,520 valid signatures in Congressional District 1. If another eight could be found to be allegedly fraudulent, it would mean he had fewer than the required 1,500 signatures.
Williams said Monday that his office is operating under court orders that put two candidates, Keyser and Colorado Springs businessman Robert Blaha, on the ballot, with a third, Ryan Frazier of Aurora, placed on the ballot pending court review. That court order limits what the Secretary of State can do, Williams said.
If the court wanted to review an issue, such as suspicious signatures, the court would have to give each side — both the candidate and the Secretary of State — an opportunity to submit compliance information on other signatures that may have also been disqualified. Williams said the deadline for such action has already passed. Primary ballots have already been printed and sent to overseas military voters, with instructions to hold off on voting as long as possible in case Frazier is taken off the ballot. In that case, votes cast for Frazier would not be counted.
As to the person who may have committed fraud, Williams told reporters that person can be prosecuted. But there’s no evidence the Keyser campaign knew about the allegedly forged signatures, he said.
It would be a different matter if the campaign hired the petition circulator, Williams explained. But that person, identified only as Maureen, was hired by Black Diamond Outreach, which according to KMGH was hired by Clear Creek Strategies to handle the petition work. She has since been fired.
State law does not require the Secretary of State to verify signatures, Williams said today.
This year’s petition process was unlike any seen in recent memory, according to Williams. In 2012, four candidates petitioned their way onto the ballot. This year, 20 candidates have gone that route.
But some candidates had no trouble doing everything right, Williams said. That includes former Rep. Larry Liston of Colorado Springs, who not only successfully petitioned onto the ballot but submitted signatures with a 95 percent validity rate. Liston served six years in the state House, before attempting to run for state Senate in 2012. He lost that race to now-Sen. Owen Hill. Liston can run again because four years have elapsed since he last served in the House.
The four Senate candidates who turned in petitions lost tens of thousands due to inaccuracies. Keyser led the pack with a 71 percent validity rate, with 11,436 signatures deemed valid out of 16,067 turned in. Another 86 were accepted after a court challenge. Frazier had a validity rate of 59 percent; Blaha’s rate was 58 percent. Former CSU athletic director Jack Graham, who turned in his petitions first, had a validity rate of 56 percent.
The problems that surfaced during the petition process this year could point to a need for better training of those involved with petitions, Williams said Monday. That could include training for circulators so they know exactly what has to be on the forms, verify that their voter registration matches up with the forms they turn in, and know the legal consequences for fraud, which carry felony penalties.
As to Keyser? ProgressNow Colorado demands he withdraw from the race. “The extent of the apparent petition fraud committed by Jon Keyser’s campaign uncovered by Denver7 is worse than anything we could have foreseen. It is increasingly evident that Keyser owes his spot on the 2016 ballot to fraud. Keyser must immediately withdraw from the U.S. Senate race,” the organization said in a May 10 statement.