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John Hickenlooper and Andrew Romanoff on the 2020 U.S. Senate primary ballot. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

A group of Colorado Republicans filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against Secretary of State Jena Griswold seeking to prevent unaffiliated voters from participating in the June 28 primary election.

The lead attorney on the lawsuit is John Eastman, the conservative, controversial former visiting scholar at the University of Colorado who, while employed by CU, also authored memos on the ways former President Donald Trump could overturn the results of the 2020 election. Eastman is being investigated by the U.S. House committee looking into the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol after a pro-Trump rally where Eastman spoke.

Among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are state Rep. Ron Hanks, of Fremont County, who attended the Jan. 6 event and is running for U.S. Senate; Laurel Imer, a GOP candidate in the 7th Congressional District; La Plata County Republican Chairman Dave Peters; Adams County Republican Chairwoman JoAnn Windholz; and Casper Stockham, a Republican who has twice run unsuccessfully for Congress.

The lawsuit claims Proposition 108, the 2016 ballot measure approved by Colorado voters that lets unaffiliated voters participate in partisan primary elections, violates the First and 14th amendments. 

Specifically, the legal action argues the ballot measure violates the First Amendment because it lets non-Republicans “interfere” with the GOP’s right to choose its nominees, and it violates the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause by forcing Republicans to allow unaffiliated voters to participate in their primaries.

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Unaffiliated voters, who make up more than 40% of the electorate, could potentially swing a primary nomination to a candidate that isn’t supported by a majority of Democratic or Republican voters, the lawsuit claims

Included in the exhibits with the lawsuit is a letter to the editor of The Aspen Daily News encouraging unaffiliated voters in the 3rd Congressional District to vote against U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, of Garfield County, in the Republican primary in June.

County clerks start sending ballots to military and overseas voters in early May. Clerks may begin mailing ballots to all voters on June 6.

A group of Republicans tried unsuccessfully last year to opt out of the 2022 Colorado primaries to block unaffiliated voters from helping decide the GOP’s nominees. Opponents warned that blocking unaffiliated voters from the Republican primary process would spell disaster for the party.

Members of the central committee of the Colorado GOP vote at the Pueblo Convention Center on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, on whether their party should opt out of the 2022 primaries. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

But the lawsuit notes that the state Republican central committee did vote to file a lawsuit to overturn Proposition 108. 

The Colorado GOP declined to comment on the lawsuit. The state party is not listed as a plaintiff.

A spokeswoman with the Secretary of State’s Office said Monday they hadn’t been served with the lawsuit.

The suit filed last week is one of three federal court actions against the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office seeking to overturn aspects of the state’s campaign laws.

Another GOP lawsuit filed in February seeks to overturn limits on individual campaign contributions to candidates for statewide office and the state legislature. A hearing on whether to grant a preliminary injunction setting the limits aside is scheduled for Thursday.

In October 2020, a federal judge refused to temporarily halt enforcement of Colorado’s reporting requirements for issue committees that raise and spend money on ballot measures. 

A lawsuit brought by the Colorado Union of Taxpayers and the Colorado Stop the Wolf Coalition claimed that reporting requirements for nonprofits working on ballot issues are unconstitutional. A judge has yet to make a final ruling in that case.

Sandra Fish

Special to The Colorado Sun Twitter: @fishnette