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Colorado recall laws liberal but challenging

No official fraud or misconduct is required to remove elected leaders
The deadline to submit petitions to recall La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt is 4 p.m. Friday. Recall supporters need 7,505 valid signatures to force a recall election.

Colorado laws on recall elections date back to the early 20th century and are designed to ensure voters have the power to determine the validity of any reasons cited for the ouster of an elected official.

Williams

In an interview Wednesday with The Durango Herald, Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams said recall elections were “designed to be possible but challenging.”

According to Ballotpedia.org, an online nonpartisan encyclopedia that tracks American elections, recall elections in Colorado aren’t uncommon. The website lists 12 recall efforts in 2017, 15 in 2016 and five in 2015.

A deadline of sorts comes at 4 p.m. Friday for those seeking to recall La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt.

Recall supporters must turn in signatures on petitions seeking Lachelt’s recall, but if they lack the 7,505 valid signatures needed to force the recall, they will have an additional 15 days to collect the needed number.

In addition, recall supporters can go back to voters if some signatures are deemed invalid to correct mistakes.

Parker

La Plata County Clerk and Recorder Tiffany Parker will have 15 business days from Friday to determine if 7,505 valid signatures were collected. If she determines insufficient valid signatures were collected, it would trigger the 15-day period for recall supporters to go out and try to meet the required number of valid signatures.

County residents David Peters, Ty Hawkins and Michael Cugnini initiated the petition drive to recall Lachelt, claiming her environmental lobbying work with Western Leaders Network, a nonprofit she started, impaired her objectivity on oil and gas issues and harmed her attendance at meetings.

Peters did not return telephone calls Tuesday and Wednesday seeking comment on the progress of the recall effort.

Lachelt

Lachelt has initiated her own campaign, Decline to Sign, to persuade voters to reject offers to sign recall petitions.

Parker said if the recall effort does successfully force a recall vote, which would likely be scheduled for July or August, it would cost the county about $58,000.

As a political act, a recall “can be used for a variety of reasons,” Williams said, and ultimately, it is up to the voters to judge whether the effort is worthy.

Colorado is one of 19 states where voters can recall elected officials, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures, and no evidence of fraud or official misconduct is necessary to trigger a special recall election.

In 2013, then District 59 state Rep. Mike McLachlan, D-Durango, the husband of current state Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango, escaped a recall effort after his party led an effort in the Colorado General Assembly to toughen gun-control laws.

Recall efforts began after McLachlan voted for a series of gun bills pushed by fellow Democrats.

Three gun-control laws eventually passed limiting ammunition magazines to 15 rounds, requiring universal background checks on gun sales and charging gun customers for the cost of the checks.

Supporters of McLachlan’s recall got a little more than 8,500 valid signatures, but they needed 10,587.

However, elsewhere in the state, Second Amendment advocates succeeded in ousting Colorado’s then state Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, and state Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo.

In addition, state Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, resigned her seat in the face of a potential recall election. Her choice to resign rather than face a recall allowed a committee of state Democrats to fill the open position rather than having it filled by voters.

Williams said the state’s most recent recall election saw two of three Custer County commissioners ousted over a battle to replace the county’s extension agent and gripes over the openness of debates in the political process.

“The reasons for a recall are up to the voters, and they are the judges,” Williams said.

parmijo@durangoherald.com

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