Colorado’s two-pronged process to participate in this year’s June 28 primary ballot is in full swing, with precinct caucuses kicking off the rush for delegates in the first five days of March and dozens of candidates accelerating the hunt for signatures as the March 15 deadline for submitting nomination petitions looms.
Candidates can take several routes to get to the Democratic or Republican ballot in the state: by collecting signatures, going through the assembly process, or opting for both methods.
The assembly track involves winning the support of 30% of delegates to county, district and state assemblies, with the two major parties ending April 9.
This year, Republicans will gather at the World Arena in Colorado Springs, where they will nominate candidates for U.S. senator and statewide positions, with the top voter in each category winning the frontline nomination on the ballot. of voting. There will be less suspense on the Democratic side at the virtual party convention on the same day, since the Democratic incumbents who hold all those positions are seeking re-election and face only nominal opposition.
Candidates can also enter primaries by collecting signatures from other party members. This process began in mid-January, giving potential candidates around two months to collect their John Hancocks, with varying requirements depending on the office sought.
Those who take both the assembly and petition routes face the same petition requirements, but only need the support of 10% of the delegates to get elected.
Candidates often start by seeking delegate votes and petition signatures simultaneously – “We keep all options open” is a familiar refrain – but generally choose one or the other, as it is the rare campaign with the resources needed to go all-in on both.
In recent years, leading candidates for high office in Colorado have encountered a series of calamities trying to convert the signatures they have collected into spots on primary ballots, sometimes resulting in derailed campaigns, huge legal fees and some hair-raising ones. reversals.
In 2018, for example, Republican gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton withdrew his petitions after they were deemed sufficient when evidence emerged that the company he hired had saved money, potentially invalidating hundreds. of signatures.
Within days, Stapleton’s campaign reorganized and jumped into state assembly, where he secured the front row of the primary and kept some potential rivals from emerging. He went on to win a four-vote primary – two other petition-qualified candidates – but lost in November to Democrat Jared Polis, who is seeking a second term this year. Stapleton then sued the petition-collecting firm for breach of contract and recovered the money he had paid.
Republican U.S. Representative Doug Lamborn had hired the same company in 2018 — it was a lawsuit challenging his petitions that brought to light the irregularities — and had to take his case to multiple state and federal courts before a judge ruled. place it on the ballot.
Several other candidates ran into trouble at the end of their petition campaigns, including Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jon Keyser, who discovered after he officially voted that one of the petition collectors hired by the company he had committed had forged many signatures. , including at least one who had died before he supposedly signed his petition. While he remained on the primary ballot, his campaign never recovered from waves of news bannnnnnd, and the former frontrunner finished fourth in a field of five candidates.
Over the past cycle, candidates pushing back the petition deadline have seen their efforts go up in smoke as pandemic restrictions made collecting signatures virtually impossible in the crucial final weeks. Democratic U.S. Senate hopefuls Lorena Garcia, Michelle Ferrigno Warren and Diana Bray sought an alternative, but a judge’s ruling barred them from voting.
More candidates are trying to fight their way to the ballot this year than in any previous year, although the 69 candidates aiming for Colorado’s primary ballot in 2022 barely top the previous high of 67 candidates who withdrew of petitions in 2018. Neither year’s total is typical, however, as less than half of candidates took the petition route in 2016 and 2020, and fewer even made the attempt in election years previous ones.
Different from the previous cycle, when it took 10,500 valid signatures to make the primary ballots for governor and U.S. senator — with 1,500 required from each of the state’s seven congressional districts — this year, candidates both ticket head offices must submit 12,000 valid signatures, since Colorado added an eighth congressional district, with the same minimum requirement from each district.
Candidates for other statewide positions must collect 1,000 signatures per congressional district, for a total of 8,000.
Congressional candidates must submit 1,500 valid signatures, while legislative candidates need 1,000 signatures whether they are running for the State House or the State Senate. (In rare precincts with exceptionally low numbers of registered voters or low turnout, candidates may cast 30% of the number of votes cast in the previous cycle’s primary if it falls below the stated requirement.)
In addition to handling petitions for U.S. Senate and U.S. House nominees, the Office of the Secretary of State oversees candidates for statewide executive positions – governor, attorney general, treasurer of State, Secretary of State – as well as nominees for the General Assembly, State Board of Education, University of Colorado Board of Regents, and district attorneys.
independent and minor party candidates face different requirements and deadlines, as do candidates for other petition efforts administered by the Secretary of State’s office, including RTD directors. Candidates petitioning at the county level—for commissioner, county treasurer, assessor, sheriff, coroner, and surveyor—go through the offices of their respective county clerks. Petitions for citizen-initiated ballot measures, referendums, and recalls operate under different procedures with different timelines, although the office of the Secretary of State is responsible for statewide versions.
So far, only five of the 69 candidates who have been granted permission to circulate petitions this year have filed complete petitions, which could create a traffic jam when petitions start pouring in a few days before the deadline.
The order in which candidates hand in their petitions can make a big difference, because under Colorado law voters are only allowed to sign one petition per race. If they sign more than one petition for the same race, it doesn’t matter which one they signed first, as the signatures are checked and counted in the order in which the completed petitions are received.
State House District 6 candidate Elizabeth Epps, a Democrat from Denver who is running in a crowded primary for an open seat, submitted hers first, on February 9. Since then, four congressional candidates have won theirs: Lamborn, the Republican from Colorado Springs who is running for a ninth term in the 5th congressional district; Erik Aadland, a Pine Republican running in the 7th Open Congressional District; Jan Kulmann, a Republican from Thornton — she is the city’s mayor — running in the 8th Open Congressional District; and Dom Waters, a Denver Democrat who hopes to challenge incumbent U.S. Representative Diana DeGette in the 1st Congressional District.
As of March 3, two candidates had notified the secretary of state’s office that they were withdrawing their petitions — a Democrat hoping to challenge Lamborn and a Republican who had his sights set on Polis — leaving 62 candidates still outstanding.
About half are legislative candidates, although an unusually high number of congressional candidates are also circulating petitions, in part due to the creation of the new 8th CD as well as an unexpected opening in the 7th congressional district. after eight terms Democratic U.S. Representative Ed. Perlmutter announced in January that he was not seeking another term.
For the second consecutive cycle, Lamborn qualified for the primary ballot before anyone else.
He learned on March 1 that the secretary of state’s office determined he had submitted enough valid signatures, making him the only candidate so far guaranteed a spot in the primary. Lamborn had a comfortable margin, with 2,297 signatures deemed valid, well above the 1,500 signatures required for congressional races. In the last cycle, Lamborn was tied with Democratic legislative candidate Daniel Himelsbach when both candidates qualified on the same day. (Himelsbach then lost the primary in the Denver-based State House District 6 to state Rep. Steven Woodrow, who was nominated to fill a vacancy months before the primary and easily won the election for a full term in the heavily Democratic district.)
Hours after Lamborn was told he had voted, Waters found out she hadn’t qualified, although that couldn’t have been so surprising, as she only turned in 105 signatures on the 1,500 needed.
Lamborn, who has faced major challengers in all but two of his nine campaigns for Congress, has changed his tone on petitions over the years.
In 2012, Lamborn mocked opposition petitioner Robert Blaha, saying the Republican was demonstrating weakness among party loyalists by bypassing the assembly and doubted “the people of Colorado could be bought off so easily.” After a close call in 2016 when he was nearly knocked out of the ballot by a surprise challenger at the assembly, Lamborn has asked his way into the race every time since.