Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Scott Gessler's proposed rule change upsets minor parties in major way

After a weekend hiatus that included Barack Obama's visit to Aurora, the presidential campaigns are no longer on pause to honor the victims of the theater shooting. (Count on the tragedy to come up at the first presidential debate -- October 3 in Denver.) And Colorado, too, is gearing up for the November 6 election -- which has minor party chairs worried that democracy is "in peril."

From 2 to 5 p.m. today, the Colorado Secretary of State's Office is scheduled to hold a rule-making hearing. And the chairs of the American Constitution, Libertarian and Green parties are concerned over a change proposed by Secretary of State Scott Gessler that would alter the make-up of the county canvass boards -- "and potentially undermine the integrity of our elections," the three chairs charge in a statement issued over the weekend.

The canvass boards oversee the election process run by the county clerks, acting as auditors. Members are currently selected by the county chairs of major political parties; under the proposed rule change, the county clerk could pick members for the minor political parties, effectively "rubber stamping" the clerk's agenda, the minor party chairs charge.

"As much as we would like to have representation on the canvass boards, to have the clerks pick canvass board members for us violates our First Amendment right of association and negates the primary reason for being a political party in the first place," says Jeff Orrok, state chair of the Libertarian Party of Colorado. (The national Libertarian Party got its start here in Colorado more than forty years ago.)

"The proposed rules threaten to undermine the impartiality of the canvass board and its effectiveness as a tool to keep our democracy open and honest," says Bill Bartlett, chair of the Colorado State Green Party.

And even though the American Constitution Party is now considered a major political party in Colorado, thanks to Tom Tancredo's run for governor in 2010, state chair Douglas Campbell has problems with the proposed change, too. "The purpose of rules is to implement statutes," he notes. "Secretary Gessler's proposals are an attempt to undermine legislative authority. Legislative principle states that legislation can only be modified by the level of government that created it."

See that government in action at the Colorado Secretary of State's Office; the meeting is open to the public.

Tom Tancredo may not be running for office, but he still has a soapbox, and he proves it in our post "Immigration: Supreme Court's Arizona-law ruling meaningless, says Tom Tancredo."

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun