State Rep. Tracey Bernett, D-Boulder County, is the latest state lawmaker to face questions about their residency stemming from the political real estate shuffle that happened last year following Colorado’s once-in-a-decade redistricting process.
Theresa Watson, chair of the Boulder County Republicans, submitted an informal complaint to the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office asking prosecutors to look into whether Bernett broke the law by casting a ballot in the June 28 primary while registered at an address where Watson alleges she doesn’t actually live.
Bernett, who is running for her second two-year term, changed the address of her voter registration from a home in Longmont to an apartment in Louisville on Nov. 3, 2021, so that she could run for reelection in House District 12, which leans heavily in Democrats’ favor, according to a nonpartisan analysis of election results dating back to 2016.
The Longmont home was drawn into House District 19, which favors Republicans and is represented by GOP Rep. Dan Woog, of Erie.
State lawmakers must live in their districts for at least a year before election day under Colorado law. (Election Day 2022 in Colorado is Nov. 8.)
Watson’s complaint cites Facebook posts from Bernett that appear to show her still living at the Longmont home. It also includes photographs of the Louisville apartment that appear to show it vacant.
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Watson seems to think Bernett should be charged with the same criminal violation leveled against state Sen. Pete Lee, a Colorado Springs Democrat indicted by an El Paso County grand jury on suspicion of lying about his residence before voting in the 2020 presidential primary.
Bernett has refused to discuss details of her residency with The Colorado Sun.
The Sun first reached out to Bernett about her address change in August and then again last week after Watson’s complaint was filed with Boulder County prosecutors. The first time The Sun reached out to Bernett, she declined to comment. She didn’t return a voicemail the Sun left for her last week, and didn’t respond to an attempt to contact her through the spokesman for the House Democratic caucus.
(She also declined to speak to The Daily Camera about the matter.)
Boulder County prosecutors confirmed they received the complaint — in the form of an email — and said they will review it.
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“As with any email from a community member, our office will conduct a preliminary review to determine whether a criminal investigation is warranted or not,” said Shannon Carbone, a spokeswoman for Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty, a Democrat. “That process usually takes a couple of weeks.”
It’s unlikely the complaint will have immediate political ramifications for Bernett.
A politician’s residency qualifications can only be challenged in district court as a civil matter, as was recently done unsuccessfully to state Rep. Kyle Mullica. It’s too late for such a complaint to be lodged given that there is a five-day window after the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office certifies a ballot in which a residency challenge can be filed.
That window has now passed.
It’s also now too late for a challenge to be filed against state Sen. Dennis Hisey, a Colorado Springs Republican whose residency was questioned by Democrats in August.
The Colorado Ethics Institute, a nonprofit tied to Democrats, compiled a dossier alleging Hisey hadn’t actually moved from a home in Fountain, which is in Senate District 12, to a Colorado Springs home where he registered to vote in order to run in Senate District 11 for reelection in November.
(Hisey couldn’t run for reelection in District 12 because it is already represented by Republican Sen. Bob Gardner, whose term doesn’t end until January 2025. Hisey and Gardner were drawn into the same district during redistricting.)
The Colorado Ethics Institute dossier was submitted to the El Paso County District Attorney’s Office for review. The allegation was that Hisey broke the law by lying about his residence for the purpose of voting.
Curtis Hubbard, the Democratic consultant who leads the nonprofit, said the district attorney’s office “is an appropriate avenue for legal review.”
Bernett is running against Republican Anya Kirvan, a registered nurse, in November.
County clerks can begin mailing ballots to voters on Oct. 16.
CORRECTION: This story was updated at 7:20 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022, to correct how long Rep. Tracey Bernett has served in the legislature. She is running for her second two-year term.