Gavel, scales of justice and law books (copy)

Colorado's June primary ballot is nearly set.

Federal and state-level Democratic and Republican candidates seeking their party's nomination have been chasing support from fellow partisans for months, hoping to collect enough votes from delegates to party assemblies or signatures on nominating petitions — or in some cases, both — in order to qualify for the ballot, which is supposed to be finalized by Colorado's secretary of state by April 29.

The ballot certification deadline doesn't have much wiggle room, since county clerks are waiting to send ballots to their printers so they can send them to military and overseas voters by the May 14 deadline. Ballots start going in the mail to most Colorado voters on June 6 and must be returned by June 28.

The assembly route — taken by the vast majority of Colorado's major party candidates — began in the first week of March, when county parties held precinct caucuses and began designating delegates to higher assemblies held at the county, district and state levels. Those meetings concluded on April 9, when state Republicans met all day at the Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs and Democrats convened online for a virtual state assembly. It takes support from 30% of delegates to win a spot in the primary, with the candidate receiving the most votes also receiving top-line designation on ballot, with additional qualifying candidates appearing in the order chosen in a drawing.

In a parallel process, candidates could begin circulating petitions in mid-January and had until March 15 to gather the required number, with varying requirements depending on the office sought — 12,000 to run for governor and U.S. senator, 8,000 to run for other statewide offices, 1,500 to run for U.S. House seats and 1,000 for legislative seats, with additional geographic requirements for the statewide offices. (Petitions for county-level offices, such as county commissioner and sheriff, are verified by county clerks.)

A few candidates opted to go both routes — most notably, Republican gubernatorial candidate Heidi Ganahl — though if they qualify by petition, they only needed 10% of the delegate vote at their respective assemblies.

For petitioning candidates, the Colorado Secretary of State's Office's Elections Division then had roughly a month to verify whether submitted petitions contain enough valid signatures, checking each entry against the statewide voter registration database to determine whether a voter was registered with the candidates' party when they signed, whether they live in the right district and whether their signatures match ones on file. The petition paperwork has to be filled out correctly, too, including proper notarization. Candidates have a chance to "cure" some errors, including by retrieving affidavits from voters whose signatures don't match the ones they affixed to mail ballots and other documents.

Most state and federal candidates who sought the ballot in Colorado this year by petition succeeded. Of the 31 candidates who turned in petitions by the deadline — roughly half the number of candidates who circulated approved petition formats — only five received insufficiency notices, and one of them, Republican Erik Aadland, made the ballot at the GOP's 7th Congressional District assembly.

After all the assemblies have been adjourned and all the petitions have been verified, though, there's still a delay in the calendar before the ballot is set in stone to allow for court challenges.

Most of the time, it's candidates suing to get on the ballot, typically by arguing that election officials wrongly excluded some signatures that should have been counted.

While the dockets have been crowded in recent cycles, this year just two candidates made that case, though neither succeeded. Republicans Carl Andersen and Brad Dempsey filed lawsuits last week asking the court to rule that they should join Aadland and two other Republicans — Tim Reichert and Laurel Imer — on the 7th CD primary ballot. (State Sen. Britany Pettersen is the presumptive Democratic nominee for the open seat, which has been held since 2007 by Democrat Ed Perlmutter, who is retiring after this year.)

Once in a while, though, opponents go to court in an attempt to knock a candidate from the ballot, arguing that their petitions shouldn't have been deemed sufficient, such as the lawsuit filed last week by supporters of U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, who wanted state Sen. Don Coram's name removed from the Republicans' 3rd Congressional District primary.

The move has only been tried a few times in Colorado, and it hasn't ever succeeded.

Most recently, supporters of former state Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, who was challenging U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn in the 2018 GOP primary in the 5th Congressional District, took their case all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court and beyond, hoping to dislodge the incumbent.

It turned out that some of the petition-gatherers hired by Lamborn hadn't met legal residency requirements, potentially invalidating hundreds of signatures they'd gathered, but after a couple of hair-raising losses — and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees — Lamborn won a favorable ruling in federal court that kept him on the ballot and threw out part of the statute that would have blocked him.

Lamborn won the primary — Hill finished a distant third, behind second-place finisher Darryl Glenn — and was easily reelected to a seventh term. He's running for a ninth term representing the El Paso County-based seat this year.

In 2016, a group of Democrats sued to erase Jon Keyser's name from the Republican U.S. Senate primary after it came to light that one of the circulators hired by his campaign had forged multiple signatures, but a judge ruled that the plaintiffs had waited too long to file their lawsuit.

Plagued by a drumbeat of damaging headlines — including the circulator's arrest on felony forgery charges and the discovery of a dead voter's signature on his petitions — Keyser didn't fare as well with voters as he had in court, finishing in fourth place. Glenn won the GOP nomination, ahead of Jack Graham, Robert Blaha, Keyser and Ryan Frazier, but went on to lose narrowly to Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, who is seeking a third term this year.

Republican Eric Weissmann, a 2012 candidate in the 2nd Congressional District primary, was the first Colorado candidate faced with overcoming a legal challenge to his petitions brought by political opponents.

A top recruit of national Republicans, the wealthy Boulder investor was running in the primary against then-state Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, for the chance to challenge then-U.S. Rep. Jared Polis in the newly competitive 2nd Congressional District. Following redistricting, the seat was nearly evenly divided between Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters after Larimer and parts of Jefferson counties had been added to the Boulder County-based seat.

After the Secretary of State's Office determined that Weissmann fell 158 signatures short on his petitions, Weissmann asked a judge to let his campaign correct "small but systematic errors in the notarization process" that had excluded hundreds of signatures he maintained were otherwise valid.

In a surprise move, the Colorado Democratic Party filed to intervene, arguing that election officials had "failed to reject all petition signatures that do not meet the requirements of petitions signatures under Colorado law."

The Democrats, a spokesman said, simply wanted to “ensure that standards for gathering signatures and submitting them remains consistent for every candidate," though during cross examination Weissmann's lawyer, Mario Nicolais, asked the state Democrats' executive director, Alec Garnett, why the party had only attempted to strike signatures rather than argue that some had been mistakenly ruled invalid, if the party was really only concerned with the integrity of the process.

The court ruled that Weissmann had easily qualified for the ballot, but he lost the primary to Lundberg by 6.6 percentage points. Lundberg lost by nearly 18 percentage to Polis, who won two more terms in Congress before being elected governor four years ago. He's seeking a second term this year.

Editor's note: This story has been updated.

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