Laws on how Colorado conducts its elections are among the 207 new laws taking effect Friday.
That includes a measure limiting campaign contributions to those who run for county seats, whether it’s commissioner, sheriff, treasurer, surveyor or coroner.
House Bill 1007 was sponsored by Democratic Rep. Emily Sirota of Denver and Sen. Rachel Zenzinger of Arvada. Prior to that law, which was signed on April 12, a person could give any amount they wanted to a candidate running for a county office.
On Friday, limits similar to those imposed for statewide elected officials go into effect. That means a cap of $1,250 from an individual donor, $12,500 from a small donor committee and $22,125 from a political party.
According to TRACER, the Secretary of State’s campaign finance database, the largest donations to county candidates in the past three years have been from the candidates to their own campaigns, and that won’t change under the new law, according to the office.
TRACER records show the individual donor who has made the largest donations to county campaigns in the last election cycle was real estate agent and developer Greg Stevinson of Littleton, who has donated $600,000 to political campaigns and committees of all kinds since 2002, both to Republicans and Democrats.
During the 2018 election cycle, Stevinson gave $117,210 to candidates -- both statewide and county -- and to political action committees. That included eight donations ranging from $2,000 to $7,500 each to six Republican candidates running for county offices in Jefferson County.
He was the largest contributor to each of those six candidates in the 2018 election cycle, and in the case of Robert Hennessy, who ran for county surveyor, Stevinson was the only donor to that campaign, with $7,500.
Five of the six lost their election bids in the 2018 Democratic sweep of contested offices in Jefferson County last November. Sheriff Jeff Shrader ran unopposed.
Another major election bill also goes into effect Friday. That’s House Bill 1278, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg of Boulder and Democratic Rep. Susan Lontine of Denver.
This omnibus election bill, signed into law on May 29, makes significant changes in the state’s election code. Among its most immediate change is to recall petitions.
Under current law, when a petition is submitted, the Secretary of State checks to see if enough valid signatures are included. If that petition is submitted prior to a deadline and the Secretary of State determines it doesn't have enough signatures, the petition backers can "cure" that deficiency with additional signatures up until the deadline. That happened with the personhood ballot measure (Amendment 62) in 2010.
Under HB 1278, that provision no longer applies to recall petitions. The only "cures" allowed for a recall petition as of August 2 are to correct signatures deemed not valid or to correct petition circulator information. That change in law will apply to the recall petitions currently being circulated for Gov. Jared Polis and Democratic state Sen. Pete Lee of Colorado Springs and Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood.
HB 1278 also:
- Changes the number of signatures required for petitions for minor party candidates to appear on the statewide ballot. For example, a minor party candidate who wants to run for president in 2020 will now need 1,500 signatures from each congressional district. The previous threshold was 5,000 total for the entire state.
- Allows a person who does not reside in a county but wants to vote at a polling place there to vote for federal offices, statewide offices and statewide ballot questions.
- Allows recall petitions to be circulated by people who are not Colorado residents. They must, however, be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age. The law also reduces the number of days to cure inaccuracies in recall petitions from 15 days to five days.
- Increases the number of voting service centers, as well as requiring drop boxes on college campuses and Indian reservations.
- Allows 17-year-olds who are pre-registered to vote, and who will be 18 by the date of the next general election, to participate in primary elections and caucuses that take place before the general election.