New election commission to study possible fixes to Colorado laws, constitution

Martha Tierney, attorney for the Colorado Democratic Party, and Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, serve on a new Bipartisan Election Advisory Commission formed by Secretary of State Wayne Williams. (SOS photo)
Martha Tierney, attorney for the Colorado Democratic Party, and Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, serve on a new Bipartisan Election Advisory Commission formed by Secretary of State Wayne Williams. (SOS photo)

Two proposed ballot measures dealing with primary elections and a presidential primary will drive up costs for counties to run elections.

Language concerning recall elections added to Colorado’s constitution in 1913 conflicts with current federal and state law.

And what about signature verification for candidate and initiative petitions?

Those topics were discussed Friday during the inaugural meeting of the Bipartisan Election Advisory Commission created by Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams with support from legislators and others concerned with elections.

“We had a great first meeting, discussing ways we can make the election process better in Colorado, and I appreciate the time and input from the state’s leaders who joined us,” Williams said.

He sought input from Gov. John Hickenlooper, legislative leaders from both parties and others about who should serve on the commission. The goal is to come up with solutions to fix election problems identified by Williams, his staff and others.

State elections director Judd Choate and Secretary of State Wayne Williams at Friday's BEAC meeting. (SOS photo)
State elections director Judd Choate and Secretary of State Wayne Williams at Friday’s BEAC meeting. (SOS photo)

Judd Choate, the SOS state elections director, said the commission “includes many of the state’s brightest election minds across all political perspectives.” The members, he said, “were very engaged, with great ideas for improving Colorado elections.”

One member, Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, said he also would like the commission to address cleaning up election records. He said he has knocked on doors, only to be told by the homeowner the person he asked for doesn’t live there anymore and that information was relayed to him before.

“The commission offers members the opportunity to discuss — outside of the Capitol and our hectic, four-month, legislative session — important election issues that confront Colorado voters and government at the local, county and state levels,” Holbert said after the meeting.

Other members of the Bipartisan Election Advisory Commission include Martha Tierney, attorney for the Colorado Democratic Party, and Steve House, chairman of the Colorado Republican Party.

House questioned whether the proposed ballot measure creating the presidential primary, which would allow unaffiliated voters to  participate without choosing to be a Republican or a Democrat, can legally tell the parties when to hold their caucuses, as the language now dictates.

And Tierney said she believes the proposal allowing unaffiliated voters to freely vote in primary elections will be financial boon for election attorneys because of the potential challenges once ballots are counted. The measure calls for unaffiliated voters to receive both a Republican and Democratic ballot although they can’t mark both.

County Clerks Pam Bacon from Logan, Matt Crane from Arapahoe and Debra Johnson from Denver serve on a the new Bipartisan Elections Advisory Committee. (SOS photo)
County Clerks Pam Bacon from Logan, Matt Crane from Arapahoe and Debra Johnson from Denver serve on a the new Bipartisan Elections Advisory Commission. (SOS photo)

Both measures will increase the cost of elections and neither provides a way for counties to fund the majority of those costs, Williams said.

Two attempts to pass a presidential primary bill during the 2016 session failed.

As for signatures, the issue exploded in May when a petition circulator submitted what appeared to be forged signatures for a U.S. Senate candidate. After her arrest in June, she admitted she had signed other people’s names.

Choate outlined deadlines in noting how adding signature verification for candidate, petition and recall elections would require a drastic overhaul in election timelines, although making other changes to Colorado law, including shifting to electronic petitions, could shorten the verification process.

The election calendar is already tight — and inconsistent.

Some candidates who collected more than 10 percent but less than 30 percent of delegate support at their assemblies were still able to collect petition signatures to try to get on the ballot. But for others, their assemblies came after the deadline to turn in signatures and they were not afforded that opportunity.

Other members of the committee include three county clerks, Debra Johnson of Denver, Matt Crane of Arapahoe and Pam Bacon of Logan, and two state representatives, Patrick Neville, a Castle Rock Republicans and Dan Pabon, a Denver Democrat.

Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, and Michael Valdez, with the Special District Association of Colorado, are serving on a new election commission. (SOS photo)
Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, and Michael Valdez, with the Special District Association of Colorado, are serving on a new election commission. (SOS photo)

Michael Valdez, with the Special District Association of Colorado, and Geoff Wilson, with the Colorado Municipal League. also are on the committee.

The group is known by initials, BEAC, which is pronounced Bee-ack. It next meets at 9:30 a.m. Sept. 13 at the Colorado Secretary of State’s office.

“It is quite refreshing to have a secretary of state so well engaged at the legislature and during the eight-month interim,” Holbert said. “Election issues are, again, some of the most contentious bills considered by the state House and Senate. However, vetting issues outside of the general session may prove to be an effective way to avoid contention and provide better solutions to the people of Colorado.

“For that, Secretary Williams deserves our thanks and appreciation.”