Mile High Moving Target: Signature Battles Complicate Ballot Printing in Colorado

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The Republican primary for U.S. Senate in Colorado is creating challenges for election officials as wrangling over ballot access – related to petition signatures – has held up final preparations for the vote. The Denver Post has more:

The lesson so far in Colorado politics this year: write with a pencil.

First the he’s-up — scratch that — he’s-down down presidential race. And now the he’s-in — forget that — he’s-out Republican primary for U.S. Senate.

The political landscape is as unpredictable as ever and we are still weeks and months before a single vote is cast in either contest.

The action in the Senate race this week offers a glimpse at the transient nature of the campaign season.

[Two] week[s] ago, Secretary of State Wayne Williams determined that Robert Blaha and Ryan Frazier didn’t submit enough valid signatures to qualify for the June 28 Republican primary. The candidates took their case to court, but a judge issued a ruling Wednesday that left them just shy of the threshold needed to make the ballot.

But [last] Thursday — just 17 hours later — District Court Judge Elizabeth Starrs issued an amended ruling that gave Blaha enough signatures to secure his spot in the race.

Hours later, she followed with a motion to allow Frazier on the ballot alongside a huge asterisk — pending his legal appeal.

In the wake of the judge’s rulings, the state can proceed with ballot preparation:

The move allowed the secretary of state’s office to certify the list of candidates so that counties can begin printing the ballot ahead of the May 14 mailing deadline for overseas and military voters.

In addition to Blaha, the candidates on the ballot are Darryl Glenn, Jack Graham and Jon Keyser — who won his own legal case after first missing the ballot.

If Frazier withdraws after the first ballots are cast, and he loses his appeal, none of his votes will count.

The problem stems from eligibility issues with a single signature-gatherer for the two campaigns:

Blaha qualified for the race after the judge reconsidered her first order and counted 87 voter signatures collected in the 3rd Congressional District — putting him just over 1,500 needed, the state figures show.

The signatures initially didn’t count because the campaign aide who collected them later had his voter registration canceled for failure to list a valid address.

Still, the judge found that Blaha’s campaign met the lesser “substantial compliance” legal standard because the petition collector was registered at the time.

The signatures collected by the same person on behalf of Frazier — 45 in total — did not count because the voter registration was canceled at that point.

The dispute left one candidate openly feuding with the Secretary of State and is sending one candidate back to court:

Blaha, who called on Williams to resign a day earlier, continued his attacks Thursday on conservative talk radio shows. “If this was a business, we would be terminating the management,” Blaha told KVOR in Colorado Springs.

On the same radio show, Williams said Blaha is diverting the blame for his own mistakes in gathering petitions — such as date discrepancies, missing notary stamps and mismatching voter registration information.

“If you have a job applicant who’s not competent in their processes, I think that’s something you look at when you’re deciding whether to hire somebody,” Williams said of Blaha’s bid…

The Frazier campaign is taking its case to the Colorado Supreme Court. His appeal is due by Monday.

But Frazier made clear he doesn’t agree with Blaha’s tact, instead suggesting the process needs an overhaul.

“I do not place blame on secretary of state or the court,” he said in an interview. “I believe the problem centers around a system that is broken and a process that is stuck in the last century.”

Ballot access challenges like this are just one of many factors that can slow down and eventually delay election preparations like ballot printing – which is especially important because of Colorado’s mail-out method for delivering ballots. Unlike other problems, however, these challenges not only affect but are adjudicated by the same state official who is trying to finalize the ballot. As a result, while the official in question (in this case, SoS Williams) might prefer that eligibility questions not affect the ballots because of the desire to get them certified and printed, his role is such that he is both source and subject of the delay.

It will be interesting to see if Frazier’s place on the ballot remains secure – and if not, if that creates problems for voters and local election officials. In addition, it appears (at least for now) that the bad blood between the SoS and Blaha remains; whether and how that emerges again over the next few months is worth watching as well.

Stay tuned …

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