DENVER (CN) – A federal judge said Monday he will decide whether to permit a Colorado congressman to appear on the Republican Party’s primary ballot in June.
Six-term incumbent Doug Lamborn is challenging a state election statute requiring petition circulators to be Colorado residents in order to have the signatures they collect count toward qualifying a candidate.
Lamborn wants U.S. District Judge Philip Brimmer to allow him to appear on the ballot while Brimmer considers the constitutionality of the residency requirement.
A week ago, the Colorado Supreme Court pulled the Republican incumbent from the ballot after finding Lamborn had used two out-of-state signature gatherers to get him on the state’s primary election ballot. Petition circulator Ryan Tipple and five voters whose signatures were thrown out along with Lamborn’s petition joined the congressman’s lawsuit.
“In every last-minute election case, isn’t it because something bad happened to the candidate, and they’re looking to get the rule changed?” Brimmer asked dryly at a hearing Monday.
Arguing for the Colorado secretary of state, attorney Matthew Grove said allowing Lamborn to appear on the ballot was unfair to would-be candidates, including attorney general candidate Brad Levin. Levin also fell short of qualifying for the ballot because he used Tipple to collect signatures.
The state’s residency requirement has been on the books since 1980, but no candidate or voter has questioned the constitutionality in federal court. In state court, Grove pointed out that every election season, for candidates who are denied a spot on the ballot, “this has been low-hanging fruit.”
“The court should do their best not to go in and change the rules immediately before an election,” Grove argued.
Even if allowed on the ballot, Lamborn’s attorney Ryan Call of Hale Westfall pointed out that his client must still win the primary and general elections on his own.
Hall also pointed out the state’s residency requirement doesn’t prevent fraud, but eases the bureaucratic process.
Ben Schler, legal and policy manager for the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office, testified the residency requirement helps verify that circulators meet other eligibility requirements. Circulators must be 18 years old and affiliated with the party for which they are petitioning.
Of 45 candidates who petitioned to appear on 2018 state primary ballots, 28 were cleared to be placed on the ballot. The rest either lacked the necessary number of signatures or were nullified when the candidate was chosen by the caucus.
To appear on the primary ballot, candidates for state representative must obtain 1,000 signatures from registered party-affiliates in their district.
The 5th District, which Lamborn hopes to represent, has some 200,000 registered Republicans. The state has more than 1 million registered Republicans.
Lamborn’s 13 hired and voluntary circulators gather 1,700 signatures, of which more than 500 failed elections office scrutiny. On average, 20 to 30 percent of petition signatures are disqualified when elements fail to match the state’s voter database.
For Lamborn, qualifying for the ballot came down to the 269 signatures gathered by Tipple. At first glance, the state voter database showed Tipple was registered as a Republican in the state. But concerned voters pointed out Tipple currently resides in California.
Meanwhile, Lamborn filed a new complaint in Denver County court late Friday asking for a review of 112 other signatures invalidated by Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams.
With the deadline to certify primary ballot set for Wednesday, Brimmer promised to issue a timely decision in the federal case.