Published August 17, 2013
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – With mail ballots out of the question, recall elections for two Democratic state senators who backed new firearm restrictions will test how enthusiastic their backers are about getting to the polls in person -- and how badly gun-rights advocates want to kick out the lawmakers.
At a time when most Colorado voters prefer voting by mail, a court ruling this week that requires in-person voting injects uncertainty about which side has the advantage in the state's first legislative recalls.
Democratic Senate President John Morse, one of the lawmakers facing a recall, said there's an expectation from some voters that they'll get a ballot by mail because that's what they're used to. In November, about 74 percent of Colorado voters cast their ballot by mail.
"They're going to wait for it and it's never going to come, and they're not going to get a chance to vote," Morse said Friday. "I think it's bad for everybody.
In Morse's Colorado Springs district, 61.4 percent voted with a mail ballot in 2010, the year he won re-election by a margin of a few hundred votes. In the district of Pueblo Sen. Angela Giron, the other lawmaker facing a recall, 65.9 percent voted with a mail ballot that same year.
Democrats were hoping that an elections law they passed this year requiring mail ballots to all voters would boost turnout with their base. But a Denver district judge ruled this week that third-party candidates should have until Aug. 26 to qualify for the Sept. 10 recall ballot. That means there won't be enough time to send mail ballots to everyone, expect for overseas voters and those requesting one in an emergency.
Recall supporters say the court decision gives them an advantage because gun-rights advocates who pushed for the election are more driven to go to the polls and make sure Morse and Giron are kicked out of office.
"We happen to be pleased with the decision. We think it's in our favor that people actually have to show up at the ballot box to vote," said Jennifer Kerns, a spokeswoman for the Basic Freedom Defense Fund, which is supporting the recalls. "We feel like we have a very motivated base."
The Democrats were targeted for recalls because of their support of laws limiting the size of ammunition magazines and expanding background checks -- both responses to mass shootings last year.
"It's about how he has ignored us, the constituents," said former councilman Bernie Herpin, who is challenging Morse.
Former Pueblo police officer George Rivera, who is challenging Giron, had little trouble getting supporters energized this week at a county Republican forum, telling them that the election "could send a strong message and a chill up and down every politician's spine, Republicans and Democrats in Colorado."
Georgia Enslow, a Pueblo Republican who was in the crowd, said the new laws "were out of bounds."
"We have to send a message to legislators to listen to their constituents," said Enslow, 43.
But so far, groups supporting Morse and Giron are outraising their opponents. Morse supporters have raised $153,013 and Giron's backers have raised $87,418 as of July 5, the latest figures filed with the secretary of state's office. In contrast, Rivera's supporters have raised $32,540, and Herpin's backers have raised $19,750.
Filings due next week will provide the latest glimpse of how fundraising is going as the campaigns head to the finish.
In the meantime, volunteers are staffing phone banks and the candidates are walking their districts to get as many voters out -- and make sure they understand that this is not a typical election. Earlier this week, while walking his district, Morse repeatedly told voters to "jump through whatever hoop to vote."
"I'm in your favor," Peggy Philipps, 65, told Morse. "Your supporters have been tenacious about calling and calling and calling and calling and keeping voters informed. I hope a lot of voters are listening."