By Marianne Goodland
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
Colorado’s primary in 2012 could move from its current date in August to June 26, under a recommendation made Sept. 8 to the Secretary of State’s Best Practices and Vision Commission.
The calendar change, which includes dozens of new dates for a variety of election-related activities, is in response to a federal law that requires ballots to go to military and overseas voters 45 days before the general election.
The federal law at issue is the 2009 Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act. The law is intended to help absentee voters participate in elections who are either in the military or are U.S. citizens living abroad. The November 2010 election is the first one to be affected by the MOVE Act.
Colorado had no trouble complying with all but one of the provisions under MOVE, according to Elections Chief Judd Choate, who chairs the commission. That one troublesome provision is the 45-day requirement to get the general election ballots out.
Secretary of State Bernie Buescher, citing Colorado’s August primary and the tight timelines to get the ballot certified and printed by county clerks, applied for a federal waiver to permit Colorado to send the ballots out at 30 days prior to the election, but that request was denied. As a result, ballots must be ready to head to voters who fall under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act by Sept. 18. That is a tight timeline for county clerks, especially those in smaller counties who may have trouble meeting the deadline because of the printing schedule for their vendor.
Another problem that pushed Colorado to pursue a waiver was in the certification of the general election ballot. The deadline to complete recounts is the 30th day after the primary, which was Sept 9. However, the deadline to certify the 2010 general election ballot and meet the 45-day timeline was 24 days after the primary, or Sept. 3, which could have led to a situation where the ballot had to be certified before any recount was completed.
Fortunately, that didn’t happen. The state came very close to having to do a recount with the Republican gubernatorial primary, Choate said; when he went to bed Tuesday night, the margin between Dan Maes and Scott McInnis was less than one percent. When he woke up Wednesday morning, the margin had gone above 1 percent.
In order to resolve the 45-day problem in the future, Colorado’s election calendar will need a major revision. Denver County Clerk Stephanie O’Malley worked with a subcommittee of county clerks representing both major political parties as well as small, medium and large counties, to come up with a new calendar. She presented the proposed calendar to the Best Practices Commission during its Sept. 8 meeting. The presentation can be viewed on the commission’s website at http://www.sos.state.co.us/pubs/elections/BestPractices/bestPractices.html.
The proposed calendar suggests a 2012 primary date of June 26. That would put Colorado on the same primary day as Utah and in the same month for four other western states: California, Montana, Nevada and New Mexico.
Moving the primary wasn’t just as simple as picking a new date. Dozens of statutes govern the number of days between election activities, such as when major and minor party assemblies can be held. As a result, substantial legislation will be needed to move the primary and a host of related election timelines.
Ryan Call, an attorney for the Colorado Republican Party, noted that the new primary day would probably be acceptable under rules set by the Republican and Democratic national committees, but such an early primary will make the timelines for holding caucuses and assemblies extremely tight. Under the proposed calendar and with the required statutory changes, precinct caucuses in 2012 could be held between the second Tuesday in February and the third Tuesday in March, although DNC and RNC rules prohibit caucuses from being held any sooner than March 1. The last day for major and minor parties to hold state assemblies would be moved to Tuesday, April 3 instead of Tuesday, June 5. That would leave only about a month between the precinct caucuses and the state assemblies. In between those two events, the parties would have to squeeze in their congressional district and county assemblies, which might be a logistical issue, according to Call.
“We’d be moving right along,” Call said, and would probably have to “rethink how we do caucuses.” Would that mean not doing precinct caucuses? “That’s on the table,” Call told The Colorado Statesman. However, if precinct caucuses still occur, he said, candidates might be given other avenues to get to the ballot.
As to the calendar itself, Call told the commission the dates “would impose significant burdens on party timelines,” but “it would open the door to discussions of how the parties operate and other ways to get candidates certified to the ballot.”
According to O’Malley’s presentation to the commission, 29 different events will need calendar changes to make the whole system work. Twenty-three of those changes will require statutory approval.
The commission did not take action on the calendar. County clerks asked for a month to discuss the changes with their municipal clerks to make sure the calendar would work for their election timetables. The proposed calendar will be on the agenda for the next meeting of the commission on Oct. 13.
And it may not be the last time Colorado has to change its primary. Jefferson County Clerk Pam Anderson said the goal of the MOVE Act is 60 days prior to the general election. “This is not the last time we’ll be looking at this,” she said.
According to Hillary Rudd of the Elections Division, about 11,000 absentee ballots from military and overseas voters have already been requested. About 2,300 of those ballots are coming from El Paso County.
El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Bob Balink doesn’t support the calendar change to June. He told The Statesman this week that such a move is “totally unnecessary. We easily complied with the MOVE Act requirements for the August 10th primary and we are doing the same for the general election. It’s a ‘can-do’ versus a ‘cannot’ attitude that makes its easy,” Balink said, adding, “thank goodness the federal government rejected Secretary Buescher’s waiver request.”