CongressElection 2018News

Lamborn files federal lawsuit to secure spot on GOP primary ballot

Author: Ernest Luning - April 25, 2018 - Updated: April 27, 2018

DSCN0349-1024x768.jpg
U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn speaks prior to Indiana Gov. Mike Pence during the Trump-Pence rally at the Antlers Hotel in Colorado Springs Aug. 3, 2016. (Photo by Michael McGrady/The Colorado Statesman)U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn speaks in Colorado Springs Aug. 3, 2016. (File photo by Michael McGrady/Colorado Politics)

U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn filed a lawsuit in federal court late Wednesday asking a judge to overturn a Colorado law that could keep the Colorado Springs Republican off the ballot in his bid for a seventh term in Congress.

The move follows a unanimous ruling Monday by the Colorado Supreme Court that ordered Secretary of State Wayne Williams to remove Lamborn’s name from the June primary ballot because some of the signatures on his nominating petitions were gathered by a circulator who wasn’t a legal Colorado resident, as state election law requires.

Lamborn’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Denver, claims the requirement is unconstitutional because it restricts the ability of voters to sign a petition to support the candidate of their choice.

A federal court has already thrown out a similar requirement for circulators gathering signatures for Colorado ballot measures, the lawsuit points out.

An attorney for Lamborn said he expects a judge will set a hearing by the end of the week.

Lamborn submitted 1,783 signatures to the secretary of state’s office, which determined that 1,269 were valid — more than the 1,000 needed to make the ballot.

But after a group of El Paso County Republicans challenged Lamborn’s petitions, a Denver District Court judge invalidated 58 signatures. Following an appeal, the Supreme Court tossed another 269, leaving the 5th District congressman 58 signatures short.

“We believe that the part of Colorado law that requires petition gatherers to be residents of the state is manifestly unconstitutional, and controlling case decisions here in Colorado and courts around the country have agreed with that assessment,” Lamborn campaign spokesman Dan Bayens said in a statement.

“Citizens who either signed the petitions for Congressman Lamborn or who plan to vote in the 5th District in the Republican primary should not be deprived of their rights by an unconstitutional election law.”

He added that the lawsuit also asks the court to keep Lamborn’s name on the ballot until the case is resolved.

A spokesman for the voters who forced Lamborn from the ballot in state court said the group plans to join with current and former state lawmakers to intervene in the federal lawsuit “to defend Colorado law.”

“It’s a pity that Doug Lamborn refuses to comply with the order of the Colorado Supreme Court, (which) has the final say in the interpretation and application of state election law. We sincerely wish that one who is charged with writing and passing laws would have more respect for the laws of our state,” said Kyle Fisk in a statement.

He also took a swing at Lamborn’s evolving position on ballot-related lawsuits.

“Doug Lamborn has said that courts shouldn’t decide elections,” Fisk said, pointing to statements Lamborn made earlier in April when he was the target of a lawsuit seeking to remove him from the ballot.

“Let us be clear,” Fisk added. “The court did not decide an election. The court determined that Lamborn’s campaign broke the law, committed petition fraud and should not be allowed to appear on the Republican primary ballot. That is the role of the judiciary. When you break the rules these are the consequences.”

Bayens didn’t respond to a request for further comment.

The lawyer representing Lamborn, former state GOP chairman Ryan Call, told Colorado Politics he’s confident the federal court will side with the congressman and remove the residency requirement, which he called “anachronistic” and “archaic.”

“The rights of the political parties, the rights of voters, the rights of the state to ensure the integrity of the election — all those are more than adequately protected by the other laws we have in place with respect to the individual verification of petition signers, with the requirement for petition circulating companies register with the state, and with other safeguards,” Call said in an interview.

The lawsuit cites a federal 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that overturned as unconstitutional an Arvada ordinance that required petition circulators to be municipal residents, declaring that the rule “was not vital to and substantially broader than necessary to ensure the petition process’ integrity.”

Before he was ordered off the primary ballot, Lamborn shared it with four Republican challengers — state Sen. Owen Hill, El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn, retired Texas state judge Bill Rhea and former Green Mountain Falls Mayor Tyler Stevens.

A spokesman for the Hill campaign savaged Lamborn’s announcement in a statement to Colorado Politics.

“Lamborn is entitled his day in court, or in this case, a third or fourth day in court,” said Luke O’Dell. “I’m sure the voters will love to hear how a 12-year incumbent congressman tapped into his PAC-funded war chest to use legal maneuvering to try and shred Colorado’s election law because he was afraid of facing the grassroots of the Republican Party.”

Hill was the only candidate in the primary to get on the ballot through the district’s GOP assembly, where he was nominated by acclamation.

Glenn, who petitioned onto the ballot without incident, told Colorado Politics Wednesday night that he was aware of Lamborn’s lawsuit.

“My focus remains on earning the privilege to represent the 5th Congressional District at the federal level and providing a positive vision for bridging the divide in this country,” he wrote in a text message.

The primary is June 26. Mail ballots are scheduled to be sent to voters during the first week of June.

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.