Money and vitriol have poured into the recall election of Senate President John Morse for many reasons. One that's been relatively underplayed, though, is this: The vote could be very close.
On the pro-recall side are Republicans and gun owners angry with Morse for championing gun-control legislation. On the anti- side are those who believe Morse was simply doing his job. Both groups are passionate, financially strong, and aware that Morse only held this seat by 340 votes in 2010.
Recall elections tend to bring out the angriest folks, which could help the GOP. But two parts of Morse's district, redrawn in 2011, leaned Democratic last November: Its western side re-elected Rep. Pete Lee over well-funded GOP challenger Jennifer George, and its eastern segment elected newcomer Tony Exum over Republican incumbent Mark Barker.
There's no way to tell, of course, but it seems a few independent-minded voters really could decide this outcome. Which is why it's frustrating to see Colorado Springs' daily paper publish misleading and irresponsible election-related editorials.
Last Wednesday, a Gazette editorial asserted that "more than 16,000 constituents of Morse" demanded his recall. While 16,000-plus signatures were collected, Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler validated only 10,137 — and the district attorney's office says it's investigating whether even that number's incorrectly inflated.
Gazette editorial page editor Wayne Laugesen stuck by the 16,000 figure in an email to the Independent on Monday: "I spoke with the secretary today and he explained that significant numbers of signatures are invalidated because of technical errors on the part of petition circulators and notory [sic] publics. An assortment of other reasons, mostly technical, invalidates signatures of people who intend to demand action when they sign. As such, the number of signatures gathered has relevance to estimating the support of any given cause."
Fuzzy math aside, the actual topic of Wednesday's editorial was what had happened in court two days before. The Libertarian Party tried to get its would-be candidate more time to collect signatures, and shocked many by doing so. A judge decided that a 100-year-old recall law, never before used, should be interpreted as giving candidates until 15 days before an election to petition onto the ballot.
Here's how the Gazette described what happened: "Second Judicial District Judge Robert McGahey effectively invalidated all mail-in ballots for the Sept. 10 recall, including absentee ballots for deployed military personnel, because a new law sponsored by Morse conflicts with the state constitution."
As Indy reporter J. Adrian Stanley noted on the IndyBlog last week, both county clerks involved in the recall, Gessler, and leading members of both major parties believed the constitution and House Bill 1303 did not conflict. The fact that McGahey found otherwise, based on his interpretation of loose language in the law, created one problem with roots in HB 1303: Mail ballots had already been sent to overseas voters, as mandated by new timetables. But as for the fact that we can't have a mail-ballot election? The 1912 recall law dictates a timetable too tight for any modern mail-ballot election.
It's worth noting that Gessler on Thursday released draft rules designed to ensure military and overseas voters would still get to vote. But rather than address that news Friday, the G went all tinfoil-hat. Its editorial claimed that HB 1303 has made it legal for out-of-district people to vote at the polls, and suggested that Democrats might bus homeless people in from elsewhere for that purpose. All those folks would have to tell election workers, the editorial said, is that they plan to move here, and their vote would be legal.
That's simply not true, as explained in an email to El Paso County Clerk Wayne Williams from Gessler's office. A voter must already have moved here to vote. District attorneys are, as they've always been, empowered to investigate any suspicious voters. And fraud is still fraud, punishable with an at least recommended year behind bars.
The Independent debunked this "gypsy voter" fear on Aug. 7 ("Truth and election," News). When we decided to do that story, we hoped to reassure voters who might have seen such fears propagated on Internet comment boards and the like. That it instead appeared two weeks later as "The Gazette's Viewpoint," along with other distortions and errors, is sad.
And that the editorial page editor himself continues to defend each of them — Laugesen's responses to all our questions are posted here — should be considered even worse.