Most of us assume that the dispute over Colorado's new gun laws — and the bizarre recall elections to which they led — ended last Tuesday night, when voters ousted Senate President John Morse and Sen. Angela Giron.
But if you're a Colorado sheriff, the 4th Judicial District Attorney, the Colorado secretary of state, the leader of one of the campaigns, or the El Paso County clerk and recorder, then you're all too aware that there's more to the story. The election has left behind at least one major lawsuit, the threat of felony charges against some signature-gatherers and voters, and a lot of questions.
Sound messy? Frankly, it's a much cleaner ending than many close to the issue were expecting.
Consider that leading up to the election, many political observers figured that whatever side lost the election would legally challenge the outcome. They would have had the ammo to do so, since laws were changed multiple times due to court decisions in the weeks before the election, and mail ballots were largely eliminated.
Some said the changes — due to conflicts with a never-before-used, 100-year-old recall law — led to voter confusion and low turnout, especially in Senate District 11. Only about 21 percent of eligible voters participated in the Morse recall.
But A Whole Lot of People for John Morse leader Christy Le Lait and ProgressNow executive director Amy Runyon-Harms both say they know of no one who plans to challenge the results.
"I asked around and I don't think there are any rumblings to challenge the results of the election at all," Runyon-Harms said, adding that progressives are instead focusing on the November 2014 election, when the District 11 seat claimed by Republican Bernie Herpin will again be up for grabs.
Of course, a few things will need to be settled first.
'Trial on the merits'
Among the legal issues floating around is Cooke v. Hickenlooper, which promises to take months to drift through U.S. District Court.
The suit was brought by the Independence Institute, the Golden-based conservative think tank representing 54 sheriffs (including El Paso County's Terry Maketa) and other plaintiffs.
The suit seeks to revoke two laws: the universal background checks and the limit on magazine sizes. Both were championed by Morse and Giron.
"[W]e are beginning preparation for a full trial on the merits," Institute spokesperson David Kopel wrote in a July 10 release. "The trial will be our challenge to the entirety of the unconstitutional anti-gun laws."
Earlier in the summer, Attorney General John Suthers clarified language in the magazine law, laying out a more technical definition of what would constitute a violation of the magazine size, and declaring that larger magazines "grandfathered" by the law cannot be sold to another, but can be lent or repaired.
Suthers' clarifications came in response to the plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction that could have kept the laws from going into effect until the suit is settled. A judge decided against the injunction following Suthers' clarification.
On Sept. 5, Suthers filed a motion asking for certain parts of the case to be dismissed, and saying he did not believe the sheriffs had standing to bring the case forward. No actions have been taken since then, court staff confirm.
The deadline for discovery in the case is Nov. 1.
Fraud and forgery
Meanwhile, the 4th Judicial District Attorney's Office is considering whether to file charges based on alleged forgery on the petitions that led to the Morse recall. A Whole Lot of People for John Morse sent DA Dan May documentation of forgeries, including notarized statements from voters who said their names appeared on petitions they never signed. One woman had been dead for years.
May's office will not say if or when it will press charges. If forgeries are proven, they would not affect the results of the recall election.
On a related note, the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's Office is compiling a list of people suspected of committing voter fraud in the recall. The Independence Institute's Jon Caldara could be on the list: He cast a blank ballot in District 11, far from his Boulder home, in an effort to prove an election law passed by Democrats was faulty. (Caldara said he "intended" to live in a rented room in District 11.)
Luis Toro, executive director of the watchdog group Colorado Ethics Watch, says Caldara likely broke more than one law, noting that it is illegal to reveal how you voted before you turn in your ballot — which he did by showing reporters his ballot on-site — and illegal to register a false address. Caldara could face felony and misdemeanor charges. Toro says he hopes Clerk and Recorder Wayne Williams refers the case, despite the fact that Williams has publicly disparaged the new election laws.
"To me, nothing could be more corrupt then letting someone off for an election crime just because you agree with their politics," Toro says.
The clerk's office confirms it will turn over its list of suspicious voters to the DA after Sept. 20. It is up to the DA to investigate and press charges if warranted.
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