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Democratic AG hopeful asks Colo. Supreme Court to rule on petition battle

Author: Ernest Luning - May 4, 2018 - Updated: May 7, 2018

Democratic attorney general candidate Brad Levin, right, speaks with a voter following a candidate forum on Jan. 13, 2018, in Wheat Ridge. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)Democratic attorney general candidate Brad Levin, right, speaks with a voter following a candidate forum on Jan. 13, 2018, in Wheat Ridge. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)

Denver lawyer Brad Levin filed an appeal Thursday with the Colorado Supreme Court in an attempt to qualify for the Democrats’ June primary for attorney general.

Following a hearing that stretched into the night on Wednesday, Denver District Court Judge Jay Grant ruled just hours before midnight that Levin hadn’t collected enough valid petition signatures from registered Democrats in five of the state’s seven congressional district, affirming a decision announced last week by Secretary of State Wayne Williams.

Statewide major-party candidates are required to turn in 1,500 signatures from each congressional district, for a total of 10,500. Although Levin submitted 15,996 signatures on his petitions, Williams only counted 8,979 after his staff decided 7,017 were invalid.

Levin says in the appeal that Williams threw out hundreds of signatures that should have been counted because he reviewed the petitions under a strict “technical compliance” standard to determine whether a signature matches voter data on file — even though the law says signatures are valid if they qualify under a looser “substantial compliance” standard.

Williams didn’t issue his ruling that Levin’s petitions had fallen short until last Tuesday, just three days before a deadline to certify the ballot. A court ordered Williams to delay finalizing the ballot for five days, but Levin argues in his appeal that neither deadline left sufficient time to research the thousands of signatures Williams rejected and construct an argument in hopes of persuading a judge that enough were “substantially” complaint.

Levin’s appeal argues: “The Secretary’s position highlights why the Secretary cannot apply a strict technical compliance standard to invalidate signatures and then tell candidates their only remedy is for a court to apply a more generous substantial compliance standard to get on the ballot. The law requires, and the calendar dictates, that the Secretary apply the same standard used by courts.”

Since late last week, judges have ordered Williams to place two other statewide candidates on the ballot — gubernatorial candidate Doug Robinson and state treasurer candidate Brian Watson, both Republicans — using the “substantial compliance” standard that factors in Levin’s appeal, though the number of signatures at issue was only 40 in Robinson’s case and 120 in Watson’s.

If Levin makes the primary ballot, he’ll face former University of Colorado law school dean Phil Weiser and state Rep. Joe Salazar of Thornton, who both advanced to the primary at the state assembly last month.

In a separate lawsuit, Levin also challenged the petition process on at least two different constitutional grounds earlier in April.

He argued that Colorado law wrongly bars unaffiliated voters from circulating or signing petitions, even though they can vote in primaries under a ballot measure that takes effect this year.

Additionally, Levin maintained that requiring an equal number of signatures from each congressional district “denies and dilutes petition signing rights” of Democratic voters, for instance, in districts with more Democrats.

The 1st and 2nd congressional districts, the two most heavily Democrat seats in the state, were the only districts where Levin gathered a sufficient number of signatures.

Grant ruled against the claims late Wednesday night.

In his appeal, Levin said he’s weighing whether to file additional appeals on the constitutional questions.

Levin also asks the high court to order Williams to place his name on the ballot while he appeals. Votes for Levin won’t count if the appeal fails.

Lynn Bartels, a spokeswoman for Williams, told Colorado Politics the list of qualified candidates — which doesn’t include Levin — was delivered Thursday morning to county clerks, who have been waiting to send ballot layouts to printers.

“If something happens with the Levin appeal, we will deal with that,” she said.

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. For nearly a decade, he was a senior political reporter and occasional editor at The Colorado Statesman before the 119-year-old publication merged with Colorado Politics in 2017.