A late-night battle over Colorado’s unaffiliated voters

Sens. Kevin Lundberg, a Larimer County Republican, and Steve Fenberg, a Boulder County Democrat, and two county clerks, Matt Crane of Arapahoe and Debra Johnson of Denver, listen to questions from a Senate committee late Tuesday on an elections bill.

A state Senate committee late Tuesday passed a measure aimed at implementing two ballot measures that impact unaffiliated voters participating in primary elections.

Sen. Steve Fenberg, a Boulder Democrat, testified it is “always a little precarious” to “tinker” with measures voters approve.

“In this case, I don’t think the legislature has a choice,” he said. “Some things need to be fixed, some things need to be implemented, we need to pay for it and the secretary of state’s office needs direction on how to implement this new law.”

Fenberg and Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, are co-sponsoring Senate Bill 305, which the Senate State, Veterans & Military Affairs Committee approved on a 4-1 vote shortly before midnight — the last of 16 bills the committee began hearing at 1:30 that afternoon.

“Is Senate Bill 305 an attempt to implement what we believe the voters said they wanted, or it is an attempt to correct some perceived errors in the content of 107 and 108 so they will work more smoothly?” Sen. Lois Court, D-Denver, asked during the hearing.

Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert testifies in favor of Senate Bill 305, an elections measure.

“I think it probably does a little bit of both,” Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert responded.

Proposition 107 requires the state to hold presidential primaries, and allows unaffiliated voters to participate without affiliating with a major party. The next presidential primary is in 2020.

Proposition 108 allows unaffiliated voters to participate in primary elections held every two years in June, again without affiliating. That measure is the most pressing one because it impacts the 2018 primary, when voters will pick candidates for the statewide constitutional offices, including governor and treasurer.

A key sticking point on how to implement the measure is whether the public has the right to find out whether an unaffiliated voter chose to mark a Democrat or Republican primary ballot. The disagreement has been spelled out in recent stories by The Colorado Independent’s Corey Hutchins and The Denver Post’s Brian Eason.

The Colorado Secretary of State’s office supports the disclosure of that information.

“The fact that you voted, the ballot style that you vote, has always been recorded in the state-wide voter registration system and has been a matter of public record,” Staiert said.

But others fear such disclosure would deter participation from unaffiliated voters, when the goals of the two ballot measures was to make it easier for unaffiliated voters to access the ballot.

Curtis Hubbard with OnSightPublic Affairs delivers petition signatures to the Colorado Secretary of State’s office in 2016 for two ballot measures dealing with unaffiliated voters. (SOS photo)

Since their passage, the implementation of Propositions 107 and 108 has been a key issue for Secretary of State Wayne Williams. He discussed
the measures when he met this year with county clerks at their various regional training conferences, including ones in Cañon City, Sterling and Rifle.

Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, was the lone “no” vote against the bill, which likely will be heard Friday by the Senate Appropriations Committee. Court said she initially opposed the measure, until hearing Staiert’s testimony.

Hill complained the bill was being rushed through late at night and late in the session — which by law must end Wednesday — and he wanted more time to study the issue. Denver County Clerk Debra Johnson echoed that concern during her testimony, as did her elections director, Amber McReynolds.

“We have been talking about this for months,” Staiert countered.

Sens. Kevin Lundberg, a Larimer County Republican, and Steve Fenberg, a Boulder County Democrat, present their bill late Tuesday on implementing ballot measures that change voting requirements for unaffiliated voters.

Previously, unaffiliated voters could participate in a primary by declaring to be either a Republican or a Democrat. Now they will automatically receive a ballot, but the question is, what kind?

Some election activists want a “super ballot” sent to unaffiliated candidates with the names of both Republican and Democrat candidates.

But Staiert pointed out that some counties do not have the capability of tabulating those kinds of ballots. Also, she said, in other states a combined ballot has led to a high “spoilage” rate, meaning voters’ ballots were tossed because they marked candidates on both the Republican and Democrat tickets.

The bill gives unaffiliated voters the right to specify whether they want to receive a Democrat or Republican ballot so they wouldn’t be receiving both.

The Year of the Mature Woman

Rep. Beth McCann and prosecutor Helen Morgan are running for Denver district attorney. (SOS photo)
No matter what happens Election Night, Denver will elect its first woman district attorney. Running are Rep. Beth McCann, a Democrat, and prosecutor Helen Morgan, who is unaffiliated. (SOS photo)

UPDATE: As of Tuesday Nov. 15, almost 147,000 more women than men have voted in Colorado.

On the night of the Colorado primary, I called Democratic Rep. Lois Court of Denver to congratulate her on winning her three-way race for state Senate.

I didn’t have a dog in the fight but I had covered Court. We also talked about Rep. Beth McCann’s win over two men in her three-way Democratic primary for Denver district attorney.

“I guess it is The Year of the Woman,” I said.

“The Year of the  Mature Woman,” Court corrected me. After all, the 67-year-old had just defeated a man and a woman in their 30s.

The Democratic nominee for president, Hillary Clinton, just celebrated her 69th birthday. And there’s a chance of an increase in the number of women serving in the U.S. Senate next year.

“I like to call it the ‘Year of the Ageless Woman,'” said former House Majority Leader Amy Stephens.

Given Clinton’s nomination and some of the topics in this presidential cycle, the Colorado Secretary of State also tracked ballot returns by gender this  election. 

So long, 2016 legislative session — and certain lawmakers

Senate President Bill Cadman, Senate Majority Leader Mark Scheffel and Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams on the final day of the 2016 legislative session Wednesday. (SOS photo)
Senate President Bill Cadman, Senate Majority Leader Mark Scheffel and Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams on the final day of the 2016 legislative session Wednesday. (SOS photo)

Another legislative session is in the history books and another crop of term-limited lawmakers is on its way out,  including Republican Bill Cadman and Democrat Mary Hodge, who each served 16 years under the Gold Dome.

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams visited with lawmakers in the House and Senate on their final day of the session on Wednesday.

“Thank you for your service,” he said to Cadman, the Senate president, and Mark Scheffel of Parker, the Senate majority leader, who also is term limited.

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Sen. Pat Steadman: Meet the people who want to be the next me

Erin Bennet, state director of the Colorado chapter of 9to5, at a rally at the state Capitol. (Bennett campaign photo)
Erin Bennet, state director of the Colorado chapter of 9to5, at a rally at the state Capitol. (Bennett campaign photo)

State Sen. Pat Steadman does most of the talking at his town halls, but on Monday he’s going to give three Denver Democrats vying for his seat a chance to make their case.

Steadman said next year is going to be “all about” the race for president and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet’s re-election bid.

“Not enough attention is paid to state legislative races,” he said, when asked about hosting the candidate forum.

“Now is the perfect time to ask people to learn more about candidates who want to represent them in the state legislature. It’s a public service.”

Sen. Pat Steadman, left, had endorsed Steve Sherick, right, in the race got his legislative seat. (Sherick campaign photo)
Sen. Pat Steadman, left, had endorsed Steve Sherick, right, in the race got his legislative seat. (Sherick campaign photo)
Gov. John HIckenlooper, left, has endorsed state Rep. Lois Court for Senate District 31. (Court campaign photo)
Gov. John HIckenlooper, left, has endorsed state Rep. Lois Court for Senate District 31. (Court campaign photo)

Steadman is term limited after 2016. Running for his seat are Erin Bennett, the state director of the Colorado chapter of  9to5, state Rep. Lois Court and emergency room doctor Steve Sherick.  Steadman raised some eyebrows earlier this week by endorsing Sherick with the town hall just days away. The endorsement was first reported by The Denver Post’s John Frank, who noted Steadman passed over his legislative colleague.

Steadman told the SOS he originally planned to hold the Senate District 31 town hall last month, and didn’t want to hold off any longer on endorsing Sherick.

The forum  will be held at the Eisenhower Chapel at Lowry, 293 Roslyn St. Doors open at 6:15 p.m. Monday, and the event begins at 7 p.m. and is scheduled to end at 8 p.m.

If you’re Chris Hansen, where’s Sen. Cory Gardner?

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Yuma Republican, and his chief of staff, Chris Hansen. (Facebook)
U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Yuma Republican, and his chief of staff, Chris Hansen. (Facebook)

Meet Chris Hansen, the chief of staff for Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner. Meet Chris Hansen, one of three Democrats running for a Denver state House seat.

The two Chris Hansens have never met but their paths have crossed for more than a year.

When candidate Chris Hansen showed up at the Denver Rustlers lunch on Sept. 1  guests peppered him with questions and comments. “Wait, you’re not the Chris Hansen I know!” and “I thought Cory’s chief of staff would be here when I saw your name on the list.”

It’s happened at other events, too, where both Republicans and Democrats are in the crowd.

Chief of Staff Chris Hansen knows the feeling. He opened up his Facebook page last year to find he had been “tagged” in a post by DA candidate Michael Carrigan as attending an event where Betsy Markey, a Democrat running for state treasurer, “gave great remarks about her race.”

“Wrong Chris Hansen,” Chris Hansen wrote on Facebook. “A very wrong Chris Hansen, since I’m actually Cory’s campaign manager. Looks like a fun event though.”

“It was,” Carrigan replied. “Should have brought Cory!”

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