After Facing Numerous Recall Attempts, Democratic Lawmakers Want To Change Rules

As voters have installed Democrats in the state's top offices, conservative activists have increasingly turned to recalls to reverse the blue tide.

Gov. Jared Polis has been the target of two recall efforts, although neither turned in enough signatures to force an election. Groups also circulated recall petitions against two state senators in 2019, and they threatened to try to recall two representatives, too. Those efforts also fell short of the needed signatures.

Now, as part of a larger election law “clean up” bill, lawmakers could change some of the rules for future recalls.

If the bill becomes law, recall petitions would be required to include an estimated cost of conducting a special election, as well as a statement from the official being targeted for recall, if they provide one.

“This is a big, disruptive force in our democratic process. I think it's important that voters have, maybe not the full picture, but at least a sentence from both sides,” said Sen. Majority Leader Steve Fenburg, one of the bill's sponsors. “It's really just to make sure the information is out there, in that these recall efforts are being used for legitimate purposes and not for purely routine political attacks.”

The bill also bans recall efforts against an official whose office will be up for election within six months.

In addition to those more substantive changes, the bill systematizes various recall procedures, generally bringing them in line with the rest of Colorado election law. It requires recall campaigns to only use paid signature gatherers who are licensed by the Secretary of State’s office, as is already the policy for other candidate and ballot issue campaigns. And it would ensure that clerks conduct a risk-limiting audit of recall results, as they do for other elections.

“We really appreciate the recall language,” said Matt Crane, head of the Colorado County Clerks Association, who described the changes as a technical clean up. “That’s something that will really help in the conduct of our recall elections and make sure that process is more efficient and more clear.”

The 82-page bill also contains an array of other changes to how Colorado registers voters and conducts elections. Other things the election bill would do include: 

  • Giving political parties more flexibility in how they run their caucuses and assemblies;
  • Allowing more public input on the location of ballot drop boxes and vote centers, while restricting counties from placing drop boxes outside of a police or sheriff’s office unless it’s part of a larger government annex;
  • Clarifying that anyone waiting in line to drop off their ballot when the polls close at 7pm are allowed to do so, the same as with in-person voters;
  • Requiring state colleges and universities to send information to their students at the beginning and ending of each year about how to register and vote in Colorado;
  • Asking clerks to work with county sheriffs to ensure people in jails and detention centers who are eligible to vote have the ability to do so;
  • Allowing new voters to use the last four digits of their Social Security number to register to vote online, instead of needing to have a state ID card, like a driver’s license.

Groups that work to expand voter access praised that last point in particular.

“In our work, we often encounter many young voters who rely on online voter registration to register to vote, but currently they’re unable to because they don’t have an in-state drivers license,” said Morgan Royal, campaigns director with the progressive group New Era Colorado.

The Democratic bill moved out of its first committee on a party-line vote Tuesday.