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Petitioning on the Ballot in Teller County

June 24, 2010

I wrote on June 12 about petitioning on to the ballot statewide. Candidates who did so had rejection rates of over 40% which seems quite high. After all, the only requirement to sign such a petition is that the signer be a registered voter of the party in question and living in the appropriate jurisdiction.

Why is the error rate so high?

One answer has been that paid signature gatherers are less careful about who they get to sign because they are paid by the signature. That is certainly part of the answer, but events in Teller County show that there’s more.

In Teller county, there are two candidates for County Sheriff: Mike Ensminger, who used the assembly process, and Mark Manriquez, who chose to petition on. Since Mike was the only candidate at the assembly, he was unanimously selected for the ballot. The rule to petition on is that 20% of the number of voters in the last primary are needed. That worked out to be 386. Mark collected 546 just to be sure.

When the County Clerk verified the signatures, Mark came up 17 short. Every signature on the petitions is verified against voter records. Signatures and addresses are matched against voter registrations. Party affiliation is of course also checked.

According to the motion filed by attorney Mark Sievers, a total of 29 signatures were improperly rejected either because of date (7) or address discrepancies (22). The address discrepancies are the most interesting. In each case the signor was a registered Republican and the signature matched that on file. The signors had listed an address different from that in the voter registration database, and so they were rejected despite the other facts checking out.

Amazing. The county clerk does have some discretion and additionally can use the property records of the assessor’s office to verify addresses. The clerk apparently did not apply the guidelines evenly nor did she use the assessor’s records. By strictly interpreting the address rules, she caused the petition attempt to fail.

Judge Edward Colt agreed with the motion filed on behalf of Manriquez and re-instated all 29 signatures. He’s on the ballot. The judge noted,

The doctrine of substantial compliance applies to review of petition verification. In general, the underlying policy is to promote electoral participation rather than discourage it or make it so difficult as to disenfranchise the electorate voters.

Further, the voting records themselves contained errors. By strictly interpreting the address requirement, the clerk was in effect applying a higher standard to the petitions than existed in the voting records.

I think this case is interesting for a number of reasons. Everyone involved–sheriff candidates, county clerk, and petition signers–are all from the same Republican party. There was no attempt at fraud and no claim of favoritism or partisanship on the part of the clerk. Yet the result is the difference between a successful petition and a failed one.

How much more likely is there room for mischief state-wide where the voter registration database is in a shambles? A lawsuit has been filed against Secretary of State Bernie Buescher regarding Jane Norton’s petitions. More on that later.

  1. June 24, 2010 12:50 pm

    Jeniffer Coken just won a court ruling that got her on the HD 4 Dem primary ballot. Lots of strange rules. The signature collector must be of the same party too. That was a problem with some of Joe G’s sigs and Mark Hurlbert’s.

    Jane had such a huge overage, what is the deal with that law suit?

  2. June 24, 2010 2:49 pm

    I don’t have all the facts yet on Norton’s petitions.

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