In a Republican repeat of 2016, it looks like a GOP candidate in a top statewide election will have to sue his way onto a crowded primary ballot. Meanwhile, Democratic Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne made the gubernatorial ballot, and so did Republican Victor Mitchell.
Lynne joins Cary Kennedy, Jared Polis and Mike Johnston on the June 26 Democratic primary Ballot. Mitchell joins Walker Stapleton and Greg Lopez on the Republican side. Unaffiliated votes will each get a ballot mailed to them, but they can only choose one.
Lynne said she personally gathered signatures herself in each of the state’s seven congressional districts.
“This is the first time ever that my name will appear on a ballot, so it’s an exciting personal milestone,” Lynne said in a statement. “But more importantly, the ballot is where voters get the last word on the type of leadership they want to see in the governor’s office.”
The only question mark now is Doug Robinson, a retired investment banker with family and financial ties to Mitt Romney, who failed to gather enough valid signatures to petition directly onto the ballot in his bid for governor, according to the Secretary of State’s office.
Robinson “submitted 11,343 valid signatures but didn’t collect enough signatures in the 2nd Congressional District,” Secretary of State Wayne Williams said in a news release. According to numbers provided by the state, Robinson missed that district by 22 signatures, and he only cleared the 7th Congressional District by four.
But the campaign is pushing back, hard.
“We know we have enough signatures,” said Robinson spokeswoman Brett Maney. “If we have to go to court to prove that, so be it.”
The news is a gut punch for the first-time candidate who for weeks has been trying to capitalize on an acknowledgment of petition fraud by his chief rival, State Treasurer Walker Stapleton— allegations that the Robinson campaign first brought to light. As Robinson cast Stapleton as a candidate who allowed a rotten operation to occur under his nose, he talked up the “due diligence” his own campaign had done in its effort to similarly gather petitions, and said on the day he turned his in, “there is no margin for error in our process.”
In an interview with Denver7 in late March, Dustin Olson, who runs the firm Robinson used to gather his petitions, said he started his company to “restore integrity to the process” of gathering petitions in a state with a seedy reputation for signature gathering.
Meanwhile, in a voicemail Robinson left for an unidentified voter obtained by The Colorado Independent, Robinson said he believed Stapleton’s petition problems would benefit Robinson’s bid.
“You’ve probably seen some of the news over the last couple of days about Walker’s campaign and some of his missteps in how things are going,” Robinson says in the campaign call. “And I think this is all going to be good for me.”
Now, like three Republican candidates in a scandal-plagued U.S. Senate primary in 2016, Robinson will have to go to court if he wants to still try and see his name on the ballot.
“I think this story speaks for itself,” is all Stapleton’s campaign manager Michael Fortney would say upon hearing the news that Robinson did not make the ballot.
In Colorado, there are two paths to a primary ballot for governor. A candidate can try to earn 30 percent of the votes from thousands of delegates at his or her party’s state nominating assembly, or a candidate can try to gather enough valid petitions from party-registered voters around the state and get directly on the ballot.
Campaigns do this often by hiring firms that specialize in contracting with temporary workers to canvass the state in parking lots, outside grocery stores or on college campuses, trying to woo voters to help their client get on the ballot. Because there are rules for who can and who can’t sign petitions— a valid signer must be a registered voter and party member for a certain amount of time, for instance, and a signature can only count for one campaign— firms try to collect much more than the 10,500 required to make the ballot just to be safe. Candidates have to gather 1,500 from each congressional district.
This year, under new rules created after 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.
In 2016, the large race for U.S. Senate erupted into scandal after media and investigators uncovered fraudulent signatures that eventually led to criminal charges and a conviction.
That year, three of the Republican candidates running had to sue the Republican Secretary of State, Wayne Williams, in order to get on the ballot when Williams’s office determined they had not gathered enough valid petitions. The messy court process sucked up much of the oxygen in that race and turned off some Republican voters. The 2016 scandal led to reforms, and this year the Secretary of State’s office added more layers of accountability.
Rules in the petitioning process state that if a voter signs petitions for two candidates running for the same office, the signature only counts for the candidate who turns in signature petitions first. In the Republican primary, Stapleton beat Robinson to that finish line.
As The Colorado Independent reported earlier this week, Robinson’s campaign thought it might benefit from duplicate signatures since Stapleton ditched his petition process because of fraud. But Secretary of State Williams says rules say Stapleton’s signatures still count, which slimmed Robinson’s margin for error.
As of Wednesday, the Robinson campaign was confident they turned in enough valid signatures whether Stapleton’s count or not. On Friday, the Secretary of State’s office announced it had determined Robinson did not turn in enough.
“Robinson, from Centennial, submitted 11,343 valid signatures but didn’t collect enough signatures in the 2nd Congressional District,” Williams wrote in a news release.
Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District, which covers Boulder, the northwestern suburbs of Denver and from Fort Collins to Steamboat Springs, is currently represented by Democrat Jared Polis who is also running for governor.
Unlike Stapleton, who reacted to his petition problems by heaping blame on the firm he hired, Robinson’s campaign is blaming the Secretary of State’s office.
The Robinson campaign shared a spreadsheet with The Colorado Independent it says shows signatures the Secretary of State rejected that should be counted. For instance, a signer whose first name is Katie was rejected because the Secretary of State said her name could not be found in the state’s voter file. But the campaign says a voter registered at the same address comes up as Catherine— and should be counted because it’s the same person. In another instance, a voter who signed as “Pitt” couldn’t be found in the state’s voter file, but shows up at the same listed address as “Pasquale.” Pitt is likely a nickname, the Robinson campaign says.
Now, the Robinson campaign will have to take Williams to court in order to persuade a judge the campaign got enough valid signatures.
“Ours was not criminal,” Robinson’s spokeswoman Maney said about the campaign’s petition issues in a swipe at Stapleton. “This is just government bureaucracy.”
Lynn Bartels, spokeswoman for the Secretary of State, says the office gave the Robinson campaign the benefit of the doubt on a number of signatures.
“We bent over backwards, that’s why they’re so close,” she added. “We’d rather get people on the ballot, we don’t want to go to court.” Now, she says, it will be up to a judge to decide.
Olson, whose company did the petition gathering for Robinson, characterizes what happened as a symptom of a broken system that needs even more fixing after the 2016 GOP U.S. Senate primary drama.
“Robinson turned in more than enough signatures from eligible Colorado voters that weren’t counted. That is easily demonstrated, so he will definitely be on the ballot soon,” Olson says. “Clearly, when the Secretary of State uses fraudulent signatures, which were rightfully withdrawn, to throw out good signatures of Colorado citizens, you know the petition process in Colorado is broken and needs to be reformed.”