A series of bills passed by Colorado Democrats in the state legislature hit a snag last week after a judge berated the lawmakers for ignoring the state's constitution.
"Writing an election law so clearly non-compliant with the state constitution," Denver District Judge Robert McGahey said in a ruling, "I find that both sad and, frankly, shocking."
The judge's rebuke was made in reference to a 126-page bill passed by the Democrats under the guise of "election reform," but as the bill was being debated, it became apparent to some that the real purpose of the bill was to enable Democrats to win elections.
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Among other things, the bill requires all elections to be conducted by mail-in ballot and allow for same-day registration. The bill also eliminates residency requirements so state residents can go anywhere in the state and vote.
Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler warned the Democrats that the bill is a disaster waiting to happen and there was no need for it, as Colorado was one of the few states that increased voter turnout in 2012. Gessler and his office were never consulted about the bill.
Gessler says that while the idea of mail-in ballots being sent to every voter may sound noble, the system is ripe for abuse by groups wanting to pressure formerly inactive voters.
"During the last election, over one million Coloradans discarded their ballots, preferring instead to vote in person," he explained. "Under the proposed law, voters will get a ballot even if they don't want one or have any intention of voting."
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He suggested that policy would open the door to intimidation.
"Independent groups have access to voter information, and there is nothing stopping them from going to people's homes and asking them to vote a certain way and fill out the ballot right then and there," Gessler explained. "In the past the person could simply say they never requested a mail-in ballot and were going to vote in person. Now they cannot say that because the person knows they have gotten a ballot in the mail."
While the bill was being debated, Democrats ignored concerns by Republicans and county clerks over the fraud issues and instead insisted the law take effect with the next election, which would normally have been in 2014.
It now appears Democrats may have had some more immediate concerns in mind when they passed the bill.
While the bill was being debated, there were rumors floating around that several Democratic lawmakers, including Sen. Angela Giron, who sponsored the election bill, could be facing recall elections over the long list of gun restrictions passed at the behest of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.
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Following the legislative session, voters were able to gather enough signatures to conduct recall elections against Giron and Senate President John Morse on Sept. 10.
The previous law said that all recall elections had to be conducted in person, however Giron deleted the old provision, which means the recall against her and Morse would now be conducted by mail-in ballots. This requirement was expected to be an advantage for the two. With the recall being a special election, the incumbents preferred to have all of the voters in their districts receive ballots as opposed to simply those who are paying attention to the issue.
Democrats, however, ran into a unexpected impediment to their plans.
The Colorado Constitution plainly states that any desired successor to a candidate facing a recall can qualify to be on the ballot up to 15 days before the election. With the elections being held in person this was not a problem. A mail-in election, however, requires to ballots to be sent out 30 days prior to soldiers serving overseas and also must be mailed out in time for other voters in the district to have time to receive them and mail them back.
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While the Democrats and Republicans were able to meet the deadline for printing and mailing the ballots, the Libertarian Party did not. The Libertarians argued they needed more time to meet the deadline to qualify for the ballot and asserted the new law conflicted with the constitution's 15-day requirement.
Judge McGahey agreed, saying the constitution trumps the new election law, and the election could not be held by mail-in ballots.
In a ruling from the bench, McGahey said it would be an "absurd result" if he were to ignore the constitution's direct ruling on recall elections.
Following the ruling AFL-CIO President Mike Cerbo blasted the judge's decision, saying they had thousands of union members who were prepared to vote to retain Giron.
"The decision by Judge McGahey is irresponsible and violates the spirit of the constitution, which he purports to uphold," Cerbo said. "The AFL-CIO has over 10,000 union household voters in the two districts combined, many of whom are accustomed, indeed expecting, to receive a ballot in the mail. This ruling directly impacts the ability for many voters such as seniors, the disabled and shift workers to vote."
Some media outlets have attempted to excuse lawmakers for the contradiction by claiming the recall section is an obscure and seldom-used section of the constitution, so it is understandable Democratic lawmakers did not know it was in there.
Republican State Sen. Vicki Marble, however, says she finds that hard to believe.
"When we get legislation drafted we send it to a legislative council who looks through it for us," Marble said. "They are aware of the laws when they put the language together, and I just cannot see them writing it and not knowing it was against the constitution."
She went on to explain that during the session Republicans frequently tried to warn Democrats their bills were unconstitutional.
"We pointed it out on the floor of the Senate on other legislation including the gun bills, but they don't care," she said. "They control both chambers and they are going to do what they want to do, and people are just left to deal with the consequences of their laws."
The election law is not the only law passed by Democratic lawmakers facing constitutional challenges.
A series of gun-control laws, which President Obama had hoped to use as model legislation for other states, is currently the subject of a lawsuit by 54 of the state's 64 sheriffs, who argue the laws are unconstitutional and unenforceable.
Under the existing laws, any magazine that holds more than 15 rounds, or can be modified to hold more than 15 rounds, is now illegal to purchase in the state. The problem is nearly all magazines are designed with features that make them readily expandable to hold more than 15 rounds. The law's wording effectively bans all magazines in Colorado.
While those currently possessing magazines of greater than 15 rounds are grandfathered in, the law prevents the transfer of any of these magazines. The wording states the grandfather clause only applies as long as the holder "maintains continuous possession" of it. Weld County Sheriff John Cooke and other sheriffs have pointed out that based on this wording, anyone who gives their magazine to a gunsmith or asks for help on a shooting range with a jammed magazine is now violating the law.
The law also requires a background check almost any time a gun is transferred to another person. The difficulties involved in this provision became readily apparent when organizers of a gun buyback program in Boulder County were forced to cancel the event after County Sheriff Joe Pelle told the Denver Post it would be nearly impossible to do, despite the event being perfectly legal.
"Procedurally we can't follow through at this time," Pelle said.
The problem is the background requirement check mandates each "purchaser" undergo a background check for each sale. This would mean that every gun turned in under the gun buyback program would need to go to a separate background check for each transaction.
Despite the organizers turning the guns over to police, authorities say the law does not allow for exceptions even in this instance.
Another law facing a constitutional challenge of another sort is an abortion bill passed by legislators that repealed all criminal abortion laws in the state.
During the session a bill was introduced on behalf of traffic-accident fatality Brady Surovik, a bill that would have added a fetal homicide provision to Colorado law. The bill came about after Brady, a full-term baby, was killed by a drunk driver. Because he is not recognized as a person, the driver faced no charges for Brady's death.
When Brady's mother, Heather, testified in favor of the bill, abortion activists told her Brady was not a human being and she simply "lost a pregnancy."
Democrats instead pushed through another bill that they claimed resolved her issue by in essence saying the child is the woman's property and the person who terminated the pregnancy could be prosecuted accordingly.
The bill went even further by containing language causing critics to call it the "Kermit Gosnell enabler act." The law repeals all criminal statutes relating to abortion, stating that "nothing in this article shall permit the prosecution of a person for any act of providing" medical, surgical or any other type of care. It also excludes from prosecution any abortion facility that provides abortions, whether it be at a clinic or using telemedicine procedures.
Colorado Rep. Lori Saine, R-Dacono, told WND the bill would provide a safe haven for abortionists like Kermit Gosnell who was convicted of killing infants who had survived an abortion by using a pair of scissors to cut their spinal cord.
"Under guise of protecting pregnant women, this bill repeals the Colorado criminal abortion statutes, which in some respects, makes this the Kermit Gosnell Enabler Act," Saine said. "In addition, HB 1154 repeals part of the statute that protects freedom of conscience – severing the rights of hospitals, doctors and medical staff to refuse [to participate] in abortions."
In response, Surovik is attempting to get Brady's Law passed as a constitutional amendment that would essentially repeal the Democrat bill.
One of the first bills Democrats took up was one limiting religious freedom by passing a civil union bill that provided no conscious protections for Christian business owners.
"It's important for all Colorado citizens to notice that this bill fails to protect religious freedom, which is a constitutionally protected right that is one of our first liberties," Kelly Fiedorek, an attorney with the Alliance Defending Freedom said. "This bill fails to protect the religious rights of conscience for Christians who are not official ministers of their church. Religious liberty is not confined to the four walls of the church but extends to everybody."
In order to help get Republican votes, the bill provided an exemption permitting clergy to refuse to perform same-sex ceremonies, however it did not contain a property exemption, which means churches could be sued if they refuse to open up their facilities to same-sex couples.
"The laws provide an exemption for ministers to refuse to perform the ceremonies, but there is no property exemption," Matt Barber of Liberty Counsel noted. "Domestic partnerships are basically marriages in everything but name, and for many religious institutions it violates their deeply held beliefs. Churches and other religious facilities should have a First Amendment right to use their property and open it up for whomever they see fit when we are talking about behaviors such as homosexuality, which is contrary to the Bible."
When voters spoke out against the bill on religious grounds, they were told by Democrat Sen. Pat Steadman, an open homosexual, that they need to keep their personal beliefs to themselves and there is no place in society for them.
"What to say to those who claim that religion requires them to discriminate? I tell you what I'd say: 'Get thee to a nunnery, and live there then. Go live a monastic life, away from modern society, away from people you can't see as equals to yourself,'" Steadman said.