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Validity of state senators' recall petitions goes before judge

Validity of state senators' recall petitions goes before judg

DENVER - A judge listened to arguments in a district courtroom in Denver Wednesday to determine if two recall petitions for two state senators were valid.

The recall petitions target State Sen. Angela Giron (D-Pueblo) and Senate President John Morse (D-Colorado Springs). The two lawmakers are under fire because of their efforts to push through new gun legislation in Colorado's state senate.

Basic Freedom Defense Fund is the group behind Morse's recall petition. The group collected 16,000 signatures. Colorado's Secretary of State's Office determined 10,000 of those signatures were valid. The group collected enough signatures for a recall election.

Legal council representing the senators' support groups contested the validity of the petitions. The petitions did not state that there would be a recall election to appoint a new lawmaker. The language is a requirement laid out in Colorado's constitution.

The attorneys argue since that language was absent from the petition, it misled people who signed the petition. The cost of recall election for Morse is $150,000. The cost of a recall election for Giron is $250,000.

It's the same argument the legal council opposing the petitions used in a hearing before Colorado's Secretary of State's Office. The ruling handed down in the hearing said the petitions were still valid despite the missing language.

Attorneys representing proponents of the petitions argue the petitions follow templates handed down by the Secretary of State's Office. The office looked over the petitions before approving the petitions. Once the petitions were approved, the groups set out collecting signatures.

"My clients have vigorously held to the requirements set forth in the statute, vigorously held to the statutes set forth by the secretary of state," said Erik Groves, who leads the legal council representing the petitions' supporters.

"They've complied with everything that's been asked of them, relied upon the secretary of state's templates and forms. Therefore, we think this is a frivolous case and we hope to have a ruling today," said Groves.

The group fighting the petitions asked for an injunction to stop Gov. John Hickenlooper from choosing recall election dates before the legal issues are resolved. The Secretary of State's Office certified the petitions on July 5. According to Colorado's constitution, recall elections' must fall within 60 days of the petitions' certification. Colorado's secretary of state said the governor's delayed response violated the state's constitution.

"We are bound by the constitution and we have very tight timelines to make sure we get the candidates on the ballot," said the secretary of state's spokesperson Rich Coolidge.

"We have overseas military, especially in El Paso County, and a lot of overseas military voters that need to get ballots out before everyone else gets them because there is a lot of transition time to mailing overseas and getting those ballots back," said Coolidge.

Pueblo County Clerk and Recorder Gilbert Ortiz testified at the hearing. He wanted the petitions' legal issues resolved before Hickenlooper set a date. He said the county's resources and taxpayer dollars would be wasted if his office starting preparing for the election only to find a judge ruled against the petitions later.

"If anything, we are doing what (taxpayers) ask of us to use their money more efficiently and waiting for the court's decision does not impede on their right because in the end, they will have the right to vote," said Ortiz.

The El Paso County Clerk and Recorder suggested Hickenlooper set the recall election for Senate District 11 on Aug. 27. The governor's delayed action means the election could be Sept. 3. The clerk expressed concern that an election after a holiday weekend will lead to low voter turnout. Also, post offices are closed on Labor Day, so he worried some ballots wouldn't make it in to before the deadline.

The judge hoped to hand down a decision Wednesday afternoon but said it may carry into Thursday.

Either side can appeal and send the case back to court if they're not happy with the judge's decision.


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