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State Sen. Kevin Priola, center.
State Sen. Kevin Priola, center. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Colorado Democrats filed a lawsuit Monday seeking to stop the recall of state Sen. Kevin Priola by challenging a ruling by state elections officials about where the recall should take place.

Priola, who switched his party affiliation to Democrat from Republican last month in a move that angered the GOP, currently represents Senate District 25, a toss-up distinct in the northeast Denver suburbs. But starting in January, because of last year’s redistricting process, he will represent Senate District 13, a far more conservative district that stretches along U.S. 85 into Greeley.

The Colorado Secretary of State’s Office ruled that Priola’s recall should take place in Senate District 13, a decision that dramatically increased the chances of the recall’s success and threatens Democrats’ chances of maintaining their majority in the Senate. 

The Colorado Democratic Party argues in its lawsuit that Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat, erred in her decision to let the recall proceed in Senate District 13 since Priola doesn’t currently represent that district.

“There is no constitutional or enabling legislation that would permit the electors of one senate district to participate in the recall procedure of a senator elected by and who represents the electors of another district,” the lawsuit said. “If there are any electors who could participate in the recall process … they are either Senate District 25 electors alone, as the entire recall process may be completed before Sen. Priola becomes the Senate District 13 senator.”

Priola doesn’t technically become the senator for Senate District 13 until Jan. 9.

“Until the General Assembly reconvenes on Jan. 9, 2023, the only electors eligible to elect a successor to Sen. Priola are the electors of S.D. 25,” the lawsuit says. “They are also the only electors who may sign a recall petition.”

The lawsuit, filed in Denver District Court, seeks a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to stop the recall. At the very least, the lawsuit argues, the recall should happen in Senate District 25, where Republicans are much less likely to be successful in trying to oust Priola.

The legal action was filed by Colorado Over Party, the Democratic group fighting the attempted recall of Priola, as well as Fredrick Sandoval, a voter in Senate District 25.

State elections officials Friday gave the recall’s organizers the OK to start trying to collect about 18,000 signatures from voters in Senate District 13 to force a special recall election. They have 60 days — or until Nov. 8, which is the date of the 2022 general election — to collect the signatures.

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Priola, who lives in Henderson, said he switched his party affiliation because of the GOP’s embrace of 2020 election conspiracies and because of the party’s inaction on climate change.

The recall effort is being funded by Advance Colorado Institute, a conservative nonprofit that doesn’t have to disclose its donors — the kind of organization The Colorado Sun calls a dark-money group.

The nonprofit’s predecessor, Unite for Colorado Action, spent about $1 million to get Priola reelected in 2020.

“The Secretary of State’s Office is currently reviewing the lawsuit,” Griswold’s spokeswoman, Annie Orloff, said in a written statement. “We look forward to having a court resolve the case.”

The recall’s organizers blasted the legal action.

“Priola and the Democrats know this recall effort is only gaining momentum, so they are getting desperate,” said Michael Fields, a senior adviser at Advance Colorado Institute. “The voters of Senate District 13 should get to decide who represents them for the next two years.  The Secretary of State is right that the recall should take place in the district he will be representing when the recall election occurs.”

Priola’s term, his second in the Senate, doesn’t end until January 2025.

Jesse Paul

The Colorado Sun — Desk: 720-432-2229 Jesse Paul is a political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is...