Constitutional challenge on ballot access, mail voting filed in Colorado Recall elections
The history-making Colorado Recall elections saga introduced yet another interesting twist late Wednesday evening as the Libertarian Party of Colorado filed a constitutional challenge over ballot access and seeking to prevent the recall elections from being conducted as an “all-mail ballot” election.
The lawsuit, filed against Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler and the county clerks of El Paso and Pueblo counties (in their official capacity only), challenges the denial of petitions to file for candidacy filed after a cutoff date imposed by emergency rule last month in order to comply with the lead-time requirements imposed by the all-mail-ballot statute HB13-1303 (ironically sponsored by one of the Recall targets, state senator Angela Giron of Pueblo’s SD-3). The lawsuit alleges that the mail-ballot bill’s timelines conflict with mandatory constitutional provisions governing recall elections – specifically, when replacement candidate petitions may be submitted.
As the Denver Post reports (“Libertarian Party of Colorado sues Gessler over recall ballot deadline“), citing the Libertarian Party’s press release:
“Article XXI of the Colorado Constitution allows any qualified candidate the right to submit completed nominating petitions up to 15 days in advance of the election date,” the party says in its release.
“It is clear that this hasty rule by the Secretary of State conflicts with the Constitution, and we have filed suit to ensure that we have the full time granted by the people of Colorado,” said Jeff Orrok, Libertarian Party State Chair in the release.
It is worth noting that the rule (Election Rule 32.6) setting the deadline for filing successor candidate petitions as July 29, 2013 – based on the 10-day period from the date (18 July)the governor set the election date (10 September) as specified in C.R.S.1-12-117(1) - was not published until 22 July, at which time nearly half the “deadline” for filing candidate petitions had already expired.
The Complaint cites the constitutional provisions of Article XXI, Section 3 as the governing legal framework for candidate petitions, stating “Section 3 of Article XXI provides, in pertinent part, that:”
Candidates for the office may be nominated by petition, as now provided by law, which petition shall be filed in the office in which petitions for nomination to office are required by law to be filed not less than fifteen days before such recall election. (Emphasis supplied.)
Although the constitutional and statutory deadlines are in conflict, another statute (C.R.S. 1-12-123) makes clear the precedence of constitutional language:
1-12-123. Constitutional requirements for recall of state officers
To the extent that the provisions of this part 1 concerning the recall of state officers conflict with the provisions of article XXI of the state constitution, the provisions of article XXI of the state constitution shall control.
In contrast to earlier constitutional challenges seeking to overturn the Recall elections in their entirety (which this complaint expressly does not seek to do), the ballot access complaint appears to rely on solid precedent in case law, citing a recent (2010) Denver District Court ruling (Hayes v. Buescher, 10CV6078) as well as earlier (and still binding) Colorado Supreme Court rulings on petition deadlines (Yenter v. Baker, 248 P.2d 311 and Baker v. Bosworth, 222 P.2d 416, 418). (Exhibits for Motion 1-11)
The lawsuit seeks to accomplish 4 things (“Claims for Relief”):
- Establish the deadline for submitting successor candidate petitions per constitutional language of “no later than 15 days before”) as 26 August
- Restrain the circulation of ballots until successor candidate petitions are validated
- Declare that Recall elections cannot be held by a mail ballot election
- Declaratory Relief that the 29 July 2013 deadline for candidate petitions set by rule violates the 1st Amendment and Equal Protection rights of the plaintiffs
The lawsuit appears to have a solid foundation based on both constitutional & statutory language and governing case law (including binding Colorado Supreme Court precedent). If successful in all claims, it has the potential to alter the dynamic of the historic Colorado Recall elections and to strike a blow against the universal applicability of the “all-mail-ballot” election law.
Ballot access is considered such a fundamental political right (bolstered by both state and federal case law) that the challenge has good prospects for success, at least in part.
The political implications are somewhat less clear.
- First, the constitutional challenge in NO way endangers the Recall vote; if anything, it strengthens the prospects for a successful recall by potentially expanding the number of people with a stake in recalling the incumbent.
- Arguably, ensuring that the recall vote is not conducted as an “all-mail-ballot” could reduce overall turnout, but would also reduce the likelihood of (and greatly increase the ability to detect) vote fraud.
- Ultimately, the likelihood of additional successor candidates (including non-Republicans) would increase (that is, after all, the point of the challenge) – however, more competition for successors would seem to increase the anti-incumbent voting pool and dilute the “anti-Recall” messaging.
The challenge is likely to be heard in court and resolved quickly due to the compressed timeframe of the recall election process – absent the challenge, mail ballots would be printed and distributed as early as next week; for even a successful challenge to have any impact, it would have to be resolved by the end of next week as well.
Looks like some long nights for the lawyers!
Read more about the Constitutional Challenge on Ballot Access & Mail Voting in these documents:
- Petition for Emergency Relief and Complaint for Declaratory Judgment
- Exhibits for Petition 1-9
- Motion for Forthwith Hearing and Relief
- Exhibits for Motion 1-11
Clear The Bench Colorado will, with your support, continue to promote transparency and accountability in the Colorado judiciary, informing the public to increase awareness of the substantial public policy implications of an unrestrained activism and political agendas in the courts. We will continue to work to educate voters and provide information of relevance related to the judicial branch, and to provide useful and substantive evaluations of judicial performance.
Ultimately, though – it’s worth the effort.