Yet Another Petition Signature Mess in Colorado

Artist rendering of the inside of the Colorado Secretary of State’s office.

Corey Hutchins of the Colorado Independent reported yesterday on the latest news from the Colorado Secretary of State’s (SOS) office regarding the validity of petitions for access to the June Primary ballot. The key points in the story are buried a bit by a broader headline and lede about the April 27th deadline for the SOS to verify signatures and finalize the ballot, but there’s no question that this is another 2016-esque mess:

Rules in the petition-gathering game stipulate that if a voter signs petitions for two candidates, the signatures only count for the candidate who hands in his or her petitions first. On the Republican side, Stapleton handed in petitions just before Robinson, but then last week (because of Robinson— long story) he wound up admitting fraud in his gathering process and asked the Secretary of State’s office to scrap them. Stapleton’s only shot for the ballot was to go through Saturday’s assembly, which he successfully did. In a way, that sounded like good news for Robinson— Stapleton’s signatures might not count against his.

Not so fast.

Even though Stapleton asked for his petitions to be pulled, the signatures on them still count since the Secretary of State already had determined they were sufficient, said Secretary of State spokeswoman Lynn Bartels. [Pols emphasis]

That leaves a slimmer margin of error for the Robinson team as workers in an office building in Pueblo double-check his signatures to make sure they are valid and don’t include Republicans who already signed for Stapleton.


Republican gubernatorial candidates Victor Mitchell (left) and Mitt Romney’s Nephew have a significant stake in the latest ruling from SOS Wayne Williams.

According to the SOS office, signatures for Walker Stapleton are still officially valid even though Stapleton raised his own alert about potential signature fraud and asked that his name be withdrawn as a candidate seeking ballot access through the petition process (Stapleton will be on the June Primary ballot anyway after capturing top-line at the Republican state assembly last weekend). Stapleton formally asked Secretary of State Wayne Williams to remove his name from the petition process just last week, which came a few days after Stapleton got word from the SOS that his campaign had in fact gathered enough valid signatures for ballot access.

Williams spun hard to cover his own ass after Stapleton’s campaign essentially admitted that many of its signatures were probably fraudulent…but now he’s saying that all of those signatures will still be counted as valid. This ruling is completely absurd in its own right, but the logic breaks down even further in regard to the gubernatorial campaign of Democrat Donna Lynne:

On the Democratic side, the same rules are working in Lynne’s favor.

Polis, whose campaign fanned the state and hoovered up some 30,000 signatures— far more than the 10,500 he needed— seemed like he could have been also creating a bit of a defense shield with them. Remember, signatures of voters who sign only count for the first candidate to turn them in. Polis turned his in before Lynne, slimming her margin of error.


Polis then decided to also go through Saturday’s assembly, where he earned himself a spot on the ballot by getting more than 30 percent of the vote among delegates. Polis’s signatures were still being counted at the time he won, and as soon as he made the ballot through the assembly, the Secretary of State’s office stopped counting them.

That means all of Polis’s 30,000 signatures are back in circulation— and are now able to count for Lynne.

Secretary of State Wayne Williams (R-Disaster).

Let’s recap what we’ve learned here. The SOS’ office is saying that Walker Stapleton’s petition signatures are still valid — even though he’s on the ballot through the assembly process — which is relevant because it means that Republican candidates such as Mitt Romney’s Nephew (Robinson) and Victor Mitchell cannot use any of those names for their own signature verification needs. In the same breath, however, the SOS says that signatures for Jared Polis will not be considered valid — because Polis is also on the ballot through the assembly process — which means that Donna Lynne doesn’t have to worry about signatures being double-counted from Polis’ submissions.

How does this make any logical sense whatsoever?

For his part, SOS Williams is passing the buck, telling the Independent that he was only following rules that say a candidate’s signatures must be counted if…they were already counted? “That is a bright line rule and that’s what we’re following,” says Williams in a comment that would only make sense if, in fact, there were any “bright lines” to be examined in this mess.

What Williams has really done here is to issue a ruling that completely upends the signature counting process for a number of statewide campaigns. We would expect to see a barrage of lawsuits coming — both from Republicans and Democrats — because Williams’ ruling could very well keep one or more gubernatorial candidates off the June Primary ballot altogether. The state legislature, meanwhile, probably needs to add another bill to its to-do list in an effort to prevent this lunacy from happening again in 2020.

Did we mention that the June Primary ballot is supposed to be certified seven days from now? We did?


27 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. Diogenesdemar says:

    Fluffy, come back!  Good news!  It looks like Coffman may somehow still have a shot . . . 

    . . . ummm, if Wayno wants her to, that is?

    • unnamed says:

      Maybe he's trying to learn to do what Steve Bannon allegedly does. (H/T. Scaramucci)

    • RepealAndReplace says:

      Have there been any sightings of him since last Saturday's disaster?

      • unnamed says:

        The Saturday Afternoon Massacre?

        • RepealAndReplace says:

          Coffman's massacre was more of a kamikaze run. Where to begin….. I guess at the beginning.

          She never really gave us a reason why she wanted to be governor except Brauchler was not catching fire and Tancredo scared the crap out of the party establishment.

          She never realized that she needed to raise big bucks to run, unlike her race for AG where the GOP AG Association helped her with money four years ago.

          She never realized that with the GOP base being what it is today, she did not have luxury of playing footsie with pro-choice moderate unaffiliated women and members of the LGBTQ community (although that would be smart in a general election campaign). Then when she tried to clarify her positions, they were as clear as mud.

          She made the disastrous decision to go the petition route initially, knowing damn well that with about $85,000 in the bank, she could not afford to do it.

          So she made the calamitous decision to flip flop to the caucus/assembly route out of sheer necessity. (Walker Stapleton did the same thing for different reason but apparently finessed it.)  

          By the time of the assembly, she was still not articulating a reason for anyone to vote for her. And the coup de grace in her kamikaze candidacy was her ghastly assembly speech warning everyone of the danger of nominating Stapleton. 

      • Davie says:

        Probably still hung over after drowning his sorrows in booze — oh the humiliation!

        But like a bad penny, Moldy will return.

  2. That's… interesting. I don't have anything against this ruling if it follows the law, but I question whether an assembly win signals the SoS to stop counting petitions. I'm more comfortable with the Stapleton signature ruling. If Robinson or Mitchell wind up short based on signatures in Stapleton's list, they should have an easier court challenge to overturn Stapleton's petition validity altogether. After all, he pretty much did the minimum, and says his petitions had problems – it shouldn't be hard to knock down on of his district counts.

  3. gertie97 says:

    How do all those clowns fit into that tiny little car?

  4. Pseudonymous says:

    I'm skeptical of the SoS's position on Lynne's petitions, but I didn't find any case law in the 20 seconds I spent looking.  I'd have to see the SoS rules for handling petitions, but here's what the law says:

    (2)  (a) For petitions to nominate candidates from a major political party in a partisan election, each signer must be affiliated with the major political party named in the petition and shall state the following to the circulator: That the signer has been affiliated with the major political party named in the petition for at least twenty-nine days as shown in the statewide voter registration system and that the signer has not signed any other petition for any other candidate for the same office. [emphasis mine]

    C.R.S. 1-4-904

    You can't know if someone's signed a petition that's never been turned in, so "signed and submitted" seems like a reasonable approximation.  It might be reasonable to also say that "signed" only includes those sigs that the SoS has reviewed, because that's favorable to the voter and election law should be construed broadly, to favor voter intent.  But, if we're really going to say that folks can only sign once, it seems a bridge too far to not include the signers of Jared's petitions, whose signatures have already been reviewed, as having been "taken" and therefore ineligible to count for Lynne.

    Then again, nobody's handed me a gavel, yet, so I don't count.

    Also, no Dem may care that Lynne’s in the race enough to bother to sue.

    • JohnInDenver says:

      With the language "the signer has not signed any other petition for any other candidate for the same office," I must say, I'm confused. I’m not a lawyer and have not drafted legislation — but it seems to me the language is pretty clear. If someone signs multiple petitions, NONE of them should count.

      Can someone clarify why the current interpretation allows petition signatures to count on the first petition turned in? And if only one of the signatures counts, why don’t they count on the petition signed first (according to the date on the petition) or last ("I changed my mind. I really wanted to have Candidate B instead of my earlier signature for Candidate C.")??

      And no, I don't think that "because Wayne Williams and company says so" is a particularly good reason.

      • Pseudonymous says:

        Because of the fundamental importance we affix to the right to vote, election law is supposed to be "liberally construed" (read in a way that maximizes, to the extent possible, voter will and intent).  It's also important to achieve not total, but "substantial compliance" so that elections happen in a way that is fairest to the goal of letting everyone (who's eligible) participate to the fullest extent possible.  In fact, our election law tells us that directly:

        1-1-103. Election code liberally construed

        • (1)  This code shall be liberally construed so that all eligible electors may be permitted to vote and those who are not eligible electors may be kept from voting in order to prevent fraud and corruption in elections.
        • (2)  It is also the intent of the general assembly that non-English-speaking citizens, like all other citizens, should be encouraged to vote. Therefore, appropriate efforts should be made to minimize obstacles to registration by citizens who lack sufficient skill in English to register without assistance.
        • (3)  Substantial compliance with the provisions or intent of this code shall be all that is required for the proper conduct of an election to which this code applies.

        As long as the procedures the SoS uses are in substantial (not total) compliance with the law, it's OK.  That's why I think it's fine to say that a signature happens the first time the SoS sees it, and probably is fine not to count signatures that haven't been verified.  It comes down to a court drawing a line (if they're asked to), that's more-or-less "this sounds fair, but that doesn't."

        • Davie says:

          SoS Williams is probably sweating to get all the petitions certified by next week, so is taking the easy way out and declaring Polis' petitions moot since he's assured a slot on the ballot.

          But as for Stapleguns’ signatures — Williams’ “Don’t look back” attitude (probably also driven by pressure to complete the certification on time) is surely going to invite a protest from the GOP candidates that don’t make it via petition.

          • mamajama55 says:

            GOP candidates may protest, Davie, but Williams is caught between them and the conservative business community, which has always balked at subsidizing the electoral side of the Sec State office with business fees.

            Verifying signatures individually is really expensive, and Williams still has to try to keep Independence Institute, Compass Colorado, National Federation of Businesses, etc., happy by not spending too much Biz dollars to fund (horrors!) elections.

      • MichaelBowman says:

        I’m curious. If someone signed Donna’s petition early on and then signed Stapleton’s petition late in the process, are you saying under the current scenario that the signature is technically valid on Donnas, but now only considered valid for SW? Timing of the sig seems relevant, but to your larger point – if someone signed more than one it seems reasonable that both/ all are invalid. 

        • Colorado Pols says:

          Signatures must come from registered voters of the same political party. If Lynne had signatures from a registered Republican, for example, they wouldn't count anyway. 

        • Pseudonymous says:

          Pols noted the party problem, but for two same-party candidates in the situation you propose, the SoS would count the signature for the first petition turned in to them– not the first one signed by the voter.  Also, again under current rules, you could sign every petition for candidates in your party, and have it count, only once, for the first candidate who submitted their petition to the SoS.

          If one took the law literally, I think the SoS would have to collect all of the petitions for a party, review all of the signatures, and throw out any signatures that appeared on more than one petition– not counting them for any candidate.  Only then, could sufficiency be determined.

          But, that's not how it works, nor even how the law requires it to work, I believe, because the law itself says, "Don't take this literally.  Do your best to uphold the principles laid out and to allow voters to have their say."

          • Davie says:

            So bottomline — the statutory language is clumsily written, but commonly understood to set up a simple race condition — the signature only counts on the first petition that is submitted to the SoS.

            • Colorado Pols says:


            • Pseudonymous says:

              That's the way it works in practice.  The race condition is set up by the SoS's (historical) interpretation* that only signing one petition means count the first one.  They could have chosen something else, like the date signed, but that seems less practical.

              *I’m assuming that some court didn’t tell them to do this at some point.

          • Pseudonymous says:

            I realized maybe I'm not answering the question.

            In the cases of both Stapler and Polis, the petitions were submitted to the SoS and (at least partially) reviewed.  Stapleton's petitions, though, were also deemed to be sufficient (all signatures tallied and the required amount there).  The SoS seems to be saying that last bit matters.

            Stapleton withdrew his petitions after they'd been deemed sufficient (see the note, bottom, here).  It's not clear to me whether Polis withdrew his or the SoS's office deemed them withdrawn once Jared made the ballot through the assembly (there's no value in counting them, since the only fight is for top line, and that can only come through the assembly).  In any case, it appears that sufficiency for Polis' signatures was not determined.

            The SoS's position seems to be that the determination of sufficiency (yay or nay) is the point at which a signature "counts."  If that doesn't happen, the voter is still available to be used on another petition.  I think it may be when the SoS verifies the signature first ("first sight"), but that depends on the SoS's office policies and a judge.

  5. Voyageur says:

    Give it up, Donna.  At most, you will split those of us who want a woman governor and help nominate Polis.

    • RepealAndReplace says:

      I could say the same about Mike Johnston. He will siphon off enough education reform Democrats – which is an endangered species to start with – from Polis to nominate Kennedy.

      • Voyageur says:

        Frankly, that's why I want Johnston to stay in.  Primaries often come down to whose bases are shredded the worst.  I'll support Jared if he's the nominee but wince at the thought that he can buy the pimary with unlimited personal funds while Cary has to follow our extremely restrictive finance laws.  For what it's worth, I'm sending her$100.



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