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Politics and Government

“You’re under threat”: Voting rights resolutions at Colorado statehouse become election-year pitch from Democrats

Republicans called the measures a partisan distraction aimed at drawing voters’ attention away from rising inflation and crime on Democrats’ watch

Lawmakers are seen on the Capitol’s House floor on Jan. 12, 2022 in Denver at the start of Colorado’s General Assembly’s 2022 session. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)
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Speaker Alec Garnett looked into the camera live-broadcasting his remarks from the Colorado House chambers on Tuesday and made a pitch to Coloradans. 

“The choice is clear,” the Denver Democrat said during debate over a resolution seeking to reaffirm the 2020 presidential results and calling on Congress to pass Democrats’ stalled voting access bills. 

Garnett said Coloradans could back Republicans, some of whom voted Tuesday for amendments to the statehouse resolution that questioned President Joe Biden’s victory and expressed support for embattled Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, a Republican. Or, he said, people can support Democrats, who are advocating to maintain and expand voting access.

“There was an amendment on the House floor of the state house of representatives here in Colorado to question whether or not President Biden is our duly elected president,” Garnett said, at times shouting during his speech. “Holy moly. We cannot remain silent. Listen up. This is serious. You’re under threat.”

Debate over two voting resolutions introduced by Democrats in the Colorado legislature on Tuesday highlights a front-and-center issue for the party as their candidates hit the campaign trail heading into the November election. The resolutions have no tangible effect — they are simply a message to Congress.

Republicans called the measures a partisan distraction from rising inflation and crime happening on Democrats’ watch. The GOP is aiming to address those issues through what they call their “Commitment to Colorado,” a package of bills that is serving at the party’s 2022 pitch to voters this year.

State Sen. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, called the statehouse voting measures “a political stunt,” and suggested Democrats’ efforts would be better spent trying to talk to Democratic U.S. Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who oppose eliminating the filibuster – a key obstacle in the way of passing the voting rights legislation.

Relitigating the 2020 election, House Minority Leader Hugh McKean said, “is part of what’s dividing our country. 

“We’ve got to get to where we have an election, we accept the results and we move on,” said the Loveland Republican. “And the challenge I think we’re going to have when we have some of these types of amendments and discussions, is we get mired in details that people want to talk about, that doesn’t help the work of the body. “

McKean went so far as to call the resolutions “an epic waste of everyone’s time.”

House Minority Leader Hugh McKean. R-Loveland, gives remarks on Jan. 12, 2022 in Denver at the start of Colorado’s General Assembly’s 2022 session. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

The majority of Republicans in McKean’s House GOP caucus backed unsuccessful amendments questioning the 2020 presidential election results and the national voting infrastructure. McKean, however, was not among them. 

Democrats, meanwhile, said the resolutions confronted issues that can’t be ignored. 

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“I think voters care about it. Is it a major campaign issue? No,” said Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder. “That’s not, I think, why we’re doing this. Do voters care about democracy and making sure that people have the right to vote? I think, yes, it’s clear that they do.”

State Rep. Kerry Tipper, a Lakewood Democrat who sponsored the House resolution, told The Sun that the measure is about “us, as the legislature, affirming that the election was free and fair,” and saying that any efforts to question the results of the 2020 election results are “a threat to our democracy.”

Asked about the political dimension of her resolution, Tipper said: “I suppose there’s a political dimension to everything we do in this building.” But, she added, this is “a moral conviction” that she shares with her fellow House sponsor. Tipper said the country can’t put Jan. 6, 2021, to rest “if we continue to have elected officials who peddle lies.”

But it was impossible to see the measures Tuesday as apolitical. 

Garnett said in an interview after his remarks on the House floor that questioning the 2020 presidential election results is “truly at the heart of the Republican Party’s platform here in Colorado.”

“I thought it was important to highlight that to the Colorado voter,” he said.

House SpeakerAlec Garnett gives remarks on Jan. 12, 2022 in Denver at the start of Colorado’s General Assembly’s 2022 session. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

(Colorado GOP chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown released a statement Tuesday saying that Biden is the president, that the 2020 election is over and that the GOP has confidence in Colorado’s elections.)

State Rep. Janice Rich, a Grand Junction Republican, accused Garnett and Democrats of going back on their pledge to pursue a legislative session in 2022 where politics is set aside.

“I believe it was the speaker who asked that we leave our politics at the door and work together for all Coloradans,” she said. “Now that a divisive resolution such as this has been introduced, I suppose those were just words to fill up a page and close a speech.”

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

Both measures – House Resolution 1004 and Senate Memorial 1 – passed mostly along party lines. Sen. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, was the one exception, joining Democrats in the Senate to pass the memorial, which mirrored the House resolution. 

In the House, the majority of the 24 Republicans in the GOP caucus voted for a series of controversial, yet, unsuccessful amendments to the resolution. 

Fifteen backed a change that called into question Biden’s 2020 victory, supported Peters and asked county clerks in Colorado to stop using electronic voting systems, including ones made by Denver-based Dominion Voting Systems. Among the supporters of the amendment were state Rep. Dave Williams, R-Colorado Springs, who is running to represent Colorado’s 5th Congressional District, and state Rep. Ron Hanks, a Fremont County Republican running for U.S. Senate.

State Rep. Ron Hanks, R-Fremont County (Handout)

Sixteen Republican members in the House voted for an amendment thanking state Rep. Ron Hanks and “millions of others” who joined him to “peacefully assemble” on Jan. 6, 2021, when a violent mob attacked the U.S. Capitol. Williams and Hanks supported that amendment, as well. Hanks traveled to Washington, D.C., for the rally held by former President Donald Trump and that preceded the U.S. Capitol riot.

Hanks also brought an amendment that replaced the language reasserting the validity of the 2020 election with language requesting a full forensic audit of the 2020 and 2021 elections in Colorado and a review of the voter rolls.

In the Senate, Republicans didn’t offer amendments to the memorial. Only Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Douglas County, spoke in opposition to the measure, saying he couldn’t vote for something calling Colorado’s voting system the national standard when he worries that ballots are being mailed to voters at homes where they no longer live. 

Holbert said he absolutely could agree to parts of the memorial celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s efforts to expand access to voting and the work of civil rights leaders in the 1960s. He also abhors the idea of poll taxes and literacy tests to vote, which were condemned in the memorial.

“(But) do I want to vote yes on something that I think, in some people’s eyes, would say ‘Sen. Holbert is endorsing everything about the Colorado electoral process’? Because that wouldn’t be true,” he said.

The U.S. Senate is debating two bills this week, both supported by Colorado’s Democratic U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, related to elections and voting rights. Versions of each have passed the U.S. House, but are stalled in the Senate where Democrats don’t have enough votes to overcome Republican opposition and the chamber’s 60-vote filibuster threshold.  

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act was written to reverse a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure would restore the requirement that several states with a history of voting rights discrimination get approval from the Department of Justice before changes to voting laws can take effect, and update the formula for deciding which states are subject to that requirement. It would also require certain changes to voting laws in any state to get that DOJ approval. 

The other measure, the Freedom to Vote Act, contains broader elections-related changes, like making Election Day a national holiday, allowing voters to cast their ballot by mail without providing a reason, making states that require voters show their IDs to expand the types of acceptable identification as well as offer same-day registration and online registration. It also aims to prohibit drawing congressional districts to give an advantage to one party, place restrictions on how states can purge people from voting rolls and require greater campaign finance transparency.


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