A Democrat-sponsored bill that would re-shape how voters cast ballots in recall elections passed the Senate on March 28, as Republicans cried foul.
The bill would allow people more time to vote and would provide more options for casting their ballots in recall elections – something that wasn't possible during last fall's historic legislative recalls, which resulted in the ousting of two Democratic Senate members.
But Republicans blasted the effort as an end-run around the state constitution that is clearly aimed at driving higher Democratic turnout in recall elections.
“Just because the constitution is an inconvenient truth, it's still the truth,” said Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, in a Senate debate that preceded the vote.
Democrats say the idea behind Senate Bill 158 is to sync modern election code with outdated election language in the state constitution – which was written more than a century prior to last year's recalls.
Colorado's constitution states that a candidate has up to 15 days prior to Election Day to submit enough signatures to appear on a recall ballot.
The Democrat-sponsored bill would require candidates to submit signatures 15 days prior to when ballots are made available to voters, which occurs long before the actual day of the election.
The changes would give county clerks more time to process mail ballots, something that didn't happen during last year's recalls – where Democratic Sens. John Morse of Colorado Springs and Angela Giron of Pueblo lost their seats in elections that were spurred by their votes on gun-control legislation.
The elections were preceded by court battles that culminated with a Denver District Court judge ruling that the mailing of ballots could not be possible in those recalls.
Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, a bill sponsor, said that resulted in “terrible” voter turnout last year. Jones said that about 36 percent of eligible voters showed up to vote in Giron's recall election, while only 21 percent of voters cast ballots in the Morse contest.
Jones said that the lack of a mail ballot option particularly harmed military voters, the elderly and persons with disabilities, because they had a more difficult time getting to the polls on a single Election Day.
“Nobody benefits from chaos, especially the voters,” Jones said. “This aligns the constitution in such a way so that people who want to vote can vote.”
Jones also cited bill support from the nonpartisan County Clerk's Association.
Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, also a bill sponsor, said the bill “modernizes” recall elections in a way that Colorado voters have become accustomed to, through the current general election process.
“This is just taking the experience from last year and making our laws more understandable for everyone involved,” Steadman said.
But Republicans blasted the bill for “running roughshod over the constitution.” They argued that the language in the constitution clearly defines that Election Day means just that – and not the weeks-long early voting process that Democrats say it is.
“We’re redefining Election Day here and I don’t think that is something we can do,” said Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley. “That is unconstitutional.”
The bill now heads to the House after it passed the Senate following an 18-17 party-line vote. The result did not sit well with Republican Sen. Ted Harvey of Highlands Ranch.
"The Democrats lost multiple court battles to stop the recalls, they then lost two Senators to recall elections, so today they are attempting to amend the constitution without a vote of the people,” Harvey said. “Their disrespect of the voters of Colorado knows no bounds."