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Here’s what it takes to actually get on the ballot in Colorado

Candidates may start gathering petition signatures in mid-January

The 2022 election is 11 months away, and a wave of candidates is filing paperwork to run in Colorado’s newly reconfigured congressional and legislative districts.

But jumping into a race doesn’t guarantee someone a spot on the ballot for the June 28 primary, let alone the Nov. 8 general election. Candidates have to spend big money to qualify for the contest, or they can try to pick up enough support from members of their political party through what’s called the caucus and assembly process.

The mad dash to make the ballot starts in January, with the primary ballot set by April 29.

Here’s how the process works for Democratic and Republican candidates:

Candidates must meet certain qualifications

The federal and state governments set qualifications for candidates to run for elected office.

First off, candidates must be affiliated with a political party on Jan. 1, 2022, to seek the Democratic or Republican nomination.

To run for U.S. Senate, candidates must also:

  • Be at least 30 years old.
  • Be a U.S. citizen for at least nine years.
  • Be a resident of the state at the time of the election.

To run for the U.S. House, candidates must:

  • Be at least 25 years old.
  • Be a U.S. citizen for at least seven years.
  • Live in the state they represent, though not necessarily in the congressional district where they’re running.

Anyone running for office in Colorado must be a U.S. citizen. But that’s not the only requirement.

To run for governor or lieutenant governor, candidates must:

  • Be at least 30 years old.
  • Be a Colorado resident for at least two years.

To run for treasurer, secretary of state or attorney general, candidates must:

  • Be at least 25 years old.
  • Be a Colorado resident for at least two years.

To run for state Senate or House, candidates must:

  • Be at least 25 years old.
  • Live in Colorado and the district they are seeking to represent for at least one year.

To run for University of Colorado regent, state Board of Education or district attorney, candidates must:

  • Be at least 18 years old.
  • Be a Colorado resident and live in the district they’re running in, unless they’re running for a statewide at-large seat.
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, left, speaks with CBS4’s Shaun Boyd, center, and Walker Stapleton before the television news station’s debate, in partnership with The Colorado Sun on Oct. 5, 2018. (Jesse Paul/The Colorado Sun file)
The caucus and assembly process

The caucus and assembly process is considered the traditional, grassroots method of getting on the ballot. It’s also the least predictable route to being elected.

Candidates must cultivate support among party members who show up to precinct caucuses, where a handful of people – sometimes only two or three – gather to throw their support behind someone and elect delegates. Those delegates move on to county, district and state assemblies where they help form party platforms and nominate candidates for everything from county offices to the U.S. Senate.

Only voters registered as Republicans or Democrats by Feb. 7 may attend precinct caucuses, which must be held between March 1 and March 5. Typically, the caucuses and subsequent assemblies draw mostly party activists. That’s because it takes dedication – and a good deal of time – to participate.

To make the ballot through the caucus and assembly, candidates must get at least 30% of the delegate vote at each step. This limits the number of candidates who may emerge from an assembly to three, though it’s typically fewer.

For example, in the 2018 gubernatorial caucus and assembly process, Democrats nominated Cary Kennedy and then U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, while Republicans nominated then state Treasurer Walker Stapleton and former Parker Mayor Greg Lopez.

But those four people were far from the only candidates seeking to be on the primary ballot that year.

The caucus and assembly process can be somewhat unpredictable because delegates may switch their support from one candidate to another at the last minute. The 2016 Republican primary for U.S. Senate is a prime example, where then El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn surprised many political observers by wooing party activists at the last minute and making the ballot. In the process, he denied others a chance at winning the GOP nomination.

The petition process

Candidates may also petition to get on the ballot by gathering signatures from voters registered to their party. Those signatures are then reviewed and confirmed by the Secretary of State’s Office.

Jan. 18 is the first day that Democratic or Republican candidates may begin gathering those signatures. Signatures must be submitted by March 15.

The signature-gathering rules are somewhat complicated, and going the petition route can be expensive – as in tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars expensive – especially for statewide candidates who typically hire private firms to do the work.

Here are the requirements:

  • U.S. Senate candidates and those running for governor must collect 1,500 valid signatures from voters in each of Colorado’s eight congressional districts. That’s at least 12,000 signatures, though candidates typically gather far more signatures than they need just in case some signatures are rejected during the review process.
  • U.S. House, state Board of Education and CU regent candidates must collect whichever is lesser: 1,500 signatures or 10% of the votes cast in the last primary election (or general election if there was no primary) held in the district.
  • Secretary of state, treasurer and attorney general candidates must collect 1,000 signatures from each of the state’s eight congressional districts. That’s at least 8,000 signatures.
  • State House and Senate candidates must collect whichever is lesser: 1,000 signatures or 30% of the votes cast in the last primary election (or general election if there was no primary) held in the district.
  • Candidates running for at-large University of Colorado regent seats must collect 500 signatures from each of the state’s eight congressional districts for a total of 4,000 signatures.

There’s often a race to submit signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office because once a voter has been counted on one candidate’s petition, they can’t be counted for another one running for the same office.

Problems can also arise with the signature-gathering process.

In 2018, Stapleton paid a firm about $235,000 to gather signatures so he could get on the ballot. But he withdrew the signatures he submitted to the Secretary of State’s Office at the last minute when he learned that the company he hired didn’t follow state laws.

Stapleton later won a lawsuit against Kennedy Enterprises, the signature-gathering firm, which was ordered to return the money.

Campaign finance records don’t indicate how much 2018 Republican gubernatorial nominees Victor Mitchell and Doug Robinson or Democrats Donna Lynne and Mike Johnston paid to make the ballot. But Democratic Attorney General Phil Weiser spent nearly $175,000 to make the ballot in 2018, and Republican candidate for treasurer Polly Lawrence spent $128,000.

Read more at The Colorado Sun

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.