The list of candidates seeking the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate was, at one time, as many as 13-names deep. This is a completely absurd number, of course, but the odds of 13 names making it onto a Primary ballot are about as likely as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio showing up for work on the Senate floor.
Monday (April 4) was the deadline to submit petition signatures for access to the Primary ballot, and four Republican candidates are making that attempt (Jack Graham, Jon Keyser, Robert Blaha, and Ryan Frazier). No more than three Republicans can make the ballot through the GOP State Assembly on Saturday (April 9); because a candidate must reach a minimum of 30% of the vote at the convention, it’s not mathematically possible for four candidates to sneak through. State Sen. Tim Neville is the odds-on favorite to capture the top ballot spot through the convention, with Darryl Glenn, Peg Littleton, and Jerry Natividad battling it out for second place.
All told, the June 28th Republican Primary ballot for U.S. Senate could contain as many as seven different names…or as few as three, depending on the viability of the signatures submitted by Graham, Keyser, Blaha, and Frazier. Graham was the first of the candidates to submit petitions to the Secretary of State’s office — his campaign claims to have turned in more than 20,000 signatures on March 28 — followed by Keyser, Blaha, and Frazier, in that order.
In order to gain access to the Primary ballot, GOP U.S. Senate candidates must submit 1,500 valid signatures from registered Republican voters in each of Colorado’s seven congressional districts, for a minimum total of 10,500. As a general rule of thumb, candidates usually try to collect double that amount to make up for any invalid signatures, which are inevitable to some degree. Blaha and Frazier each claim to have submitted more than 17,000 signatures; curiously, Keyser’s campaign has not indicated a total number of collected signatures.
The Secretary of State’s office has until April 29th to verify the petitions of all four candidates, and here’s where things get sticky: There is a sizable advantage to being the first candidate to submit petition signatures because no registered Republican voter can be counted twice. All four candidates could submit petitions that include many of the same names — there’s nothing illegal about signing multiple candidate petitions — but they are only verified in the order in which the petitions were first submitted. It makes no difference when the petitions were first signed — only when they were turned in to the Secretary of State.
Because he was the first one through the door, Graham will be the first GOP candidate to have his petition signatures verified by the Secretary of State’s office. Once a signature is confirmed as valid, that name cannot be counted again for another candidate. Keyser’s campaign will thus need 1,500 valid signatures (per district) that have not already been submitted by Graham. Blaha will need 1,500 signatures that have not already been submitted by Graham AND Keyser. You can see how this becomes a problem for Frazier; as the last candidate to submit petitions, there are at least 4,500 registered Republican voters in each congressional district that cannot be counted toward his petition total. Frazier doesn’t just need 1,500 valid signatures from each district — he needs 1,500 different names.
For a rough analogy, consider the NFL Draft that will be held at the end of this month; if your team has the fourth selection in the draft, there are three collegiate players who will be off the board before your team gets a chance to pick a player. You cannot select a player who has already been chosen by another team, obviously, and the petition process works in a similar fashion.
As we mentioned earlier, Keyser’s campaign has not publicly indicated how many total signatures were collected before the entire batch was submitted on March 31. If Keyser did not collect enough extra signatures to make up for any names already turned in by Graham’s campaign, he’s not going to make the ballot (though perhaps Keyser can come up with a bunch of “extra
ballots petitions”). Blaha and Frazier, meanwhile, must keep their fingers crossed that they have enough extra signatures to make up for any duplicates collected by both Graham and Keyser.
It’s entirely possible — though probably unlikely — that only one of these four candidates will end up with enough valid petition signatures in order to make it onto the Primary ballot. It would certainly not be a surprise, however, if one or two candidates don’t make it. In 2006, for example, Republican gubernatorial candidate Marc Holzman saw his campaign come to a screeching halt after more than a year of work when he came up short in the petition process, which gave Bob Beauprez a clear path to the GOP nomination (Beauprez would later get trounced by Democrat Bill Ritter in the General Election).
While petition signatures are being verified over the next 3-4 weeks, Graham, Keyser, Blaha, and Frazier will continue to campaign for the GOP Senate nomination. For any one of these four candidates, the 2016 election cycle might already have ended.