The Jefferson County clerk’s office expressed confidence Friday that a high-profile school board recall election can co-exist with a crowded November regular ballot and promised to address the Colorado Secretary of State’s concerns about whether it can pull it off.
“The staff and everybody looked at all the options possible,” said Beth Clippinger, spokeswoman for the clerk. “We talked to all the players in the game. This is the best possible plan for our voters and following state statute.”
The Secretary of State’s office sent a letter to the clerk Thursday raising concerns about the office’s decision to include the recall with the regular election.
Clippinger said the clerk’s office will respond early next with its game plan for combining the recall with the general election— an explanation required by law.
Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert said Friday that recalls “were never really intended to be run on coordinated elections.”
Among the concerns detailed in the secretary’s letter and in a Chalkbeat interview with Staiert:
How will the clerk’s office coordinate dozens of other elections including those for city councils?
How much wiggle room will the clerk have to meet state election deadlines in the event of a technical error?
What will happen if there is an eleventh-hour legal challenge?
The most recent notable recalls in Colorado have been off the regular election cycle. The successful recall of Democratic state Sens. John Morse and Angela Giron — targets for their support for gun-control legislation — took place Sept. 10, 2013.
The timing of the Jeffco recall — organized by a group called Jeffco United for Action — has been in dispute since Day 1.
State statutes that govern regular elections and recalls conflict, making one ballot for both extremely unlikely. However, organizers behind the recall effort believed they found a three-day window to make it work, saving Jeffco Public Schools roughly $500,000 it would cost to stage a special election.
“Our group has done everything we can to be the most cost-effective election it could be for the Jeffco school district,” said Jeffco United for Action spokeswoman Lynea Hansen. “There are going to be challenges, but I think the Jeffco clerk is ready to handle those.”
Ballot printing errors are one potential problem. Another: a conflict between state statute and the state constitution regarding candidates to replace recall targets Ken Witt, Julie Williams and John Newkirk.
State statute says residents who want to replace the school board members can petition to be on the ballot up to 15 days before the mail-in ballots must be sent to voters in October. However, the state constitution says residents have 15 days before the election day — which is technically Nov. 3 — to petition on to the ballot.
If someone tried to enter the race under the constitution’s timeline, that could trigger a legal challenge. That could send both the recall and regular election spiraling into chaos, Staiert said.
“We’d have multiple ballot content and a lot of voter confusion,” Staiert said. “We’d have to void the race and send out another ballot.”
Staiert said her office will continue to regularly communicate with the Jeffco clerk’s office.
“Our goal is to have a successful election,” she said.
Staiert said at least one concern about the recall has been resolved – involving deadlines required under state law for ballots sent overseas and to members of the military.
The Jeffco clerk will mail two ballots to those voters. The first, which will be sent 45 days before the Nov. 3 election, will contain a statewide ballot question. The second, which must be sent 22 days before the Nov. 3 election, will contain the county’s ballot language including the recall question.
Jeffco residents who began the recall process in June believe the school board majority has misused taxpayer dollars, disrespected teachers and parents, and broken the state’s open meetings law.
Witt, Williams, Newkirk and their supporters counter that reality is the opposite. The school district is building a new school without increasing debt or taxes, has given teachers raises and made meetings more accessible by live-streaming them on the Internet, they say.
Correction: An earlier version of this article said a Jefferson County ballot will be sent to military and overseas voters with statewide ballot questions. It will only contain one statewide ballot question.