Senators spar over election residency requirements bill

Early voting

DENVER — Republicans in the state senate dug in their heels and fought hard Monday morning — and all afternoon — to voice their opposition to a Democratic election law overhaul.

After more than seven hours of debate, they weren’t able to prevent the legislation from being approved on an initial 18-17 party-line vote.

House Bill 1164, which still awaits a final recorded vote in the senate before it can head to the governor’s desk, aligns residency requirements for municipal, special, and school district elections with statewide residency requirements.

The legislation has already passed the House, and did so with bipartisan support.

Special districts, municipalities and school boards have always had different residency requirements for elections, which, Democrats argue, is confusing to voters.

H.B 1164 aligns the residency to the 22 days now required by state law. Special districts, municipalities and school boards would have to confirm that their voters are registered with the Secretary of State; but because these elections aren’t run out of the SOS system, the proposal also gives clerks the ability to run them independently and to conduct mail ballot elections.

“Voting is foundational to our democracy,” said Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, D-Adams County, the bill’s sponsor. “For elections to work, they need to be accessible and easy to navigate for all eligible voters. It should go without saying, Coloradans should be able to fairly vote for their own city councilors, mayor, or local tax and ballot issues. This bill accomplishes that”

Opponents argued that property tax questions for special districts (sanitation, water, recreation, fire, etc.) would be taken off the November ballot, and be processed in a privatized election with less regulatory oversight.

Republicans wanted to amend the proposal to give the Secretary of State oversight over local, coordinated elections; Democrats noted that the current Secretary, Scott Gessler, a Republican, said his office had no desire to oversee such elections.

“I’m not seeing debate. I’m seeing: we’ve got more votes than you do, so [we'll] sit down and shut up and beat you,” said Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud. “We’re not talking politics here, we’re talking policy.”

After several hours of debate, Democrats did agree to seven amendments, including one to ensure that polling places in special district elections are accessible to disabled veterans after Republicans challenged that the proposal wouldn’t protect veterans.

Marilyn Marks, the Aspen activist known for fighting mail ballots — her lawsuit successfully challenging the election law Democrats passed last year to require that all voters receive mail ballots resulted in mail ballots being tossed out during two recall elections last September — may have been a driving force behind the sudden GOP opposition to the proposal.

Marks was seated on the Senate floor during Monday morning’s debate, as a guest of one of the Republican lawmakers.