Ever since Jeffco high school students began walking out of their schools in protest two weeks ago, the word ‘Recall’ has been coming up more and more. Thursday night and all day yesterday, it was probably the second most common topic on many FB sites (Boots on the Boulevard was probably number one…but not by much.)
We also have had some people think that the JeffCo School Board Watch is pessimistic about the chances of a recall succeeding, and therefore is downplaying the call for recall.
We can see how that might be thought, but nothing could be further from the truth.
We not only think a recall is possible, we think it is very likely, given the path that Witt, Newkirk, and Williams insist on taking.
But that is not the same thing as thinking it will be easy!
So in this post, we are going to look again at Recall elections in Colorado, and then apply it directly to the JeffCo situation. We will later take this and make it into a permanent page.
We hope this will help people as the next few months occur.
Recall elections in Colorado are governed by a series of statutes, specifically, Colorado Revised Statutes (CRS) 1-12-102, 105, 107, 109-111, 117, 120, and 120.5., and the changes in 1-12-111 caused by the passing and signing of SB158 this last legislative session. Below is a summary of how those statutes channel any recall effort as it applies to JeffCo’s situation.
- The first legal step in a recall against a school board member is for a group of people, generally organized into a formal legal entity, files a notice of intent to seek a recall petition against a specific individual. The notice must follow a certain form, specifically, it must list the reasons for recall in not more than 200 words. Once the county clerk and recorder’s office has approved the form of the petition, the organizers have 60 days in which to collect the signatures.
- A recall cannot be filed for if the person has been in office for 6 months or less. In this case that is not a problem as Witt, Newkirk, and Williams have been in office not quite 11 months.
- For a school board official, a minimum of only 15,000 valid signatures are needed to certify the petition and call for a recall election. The challenge here is that there are always some signatures that are illegible, or not by resident, etc., and so are not valid. Most of the time, the petition group generally targets a lot more than 15,000.
- If the minimum number of signatures is not acquired within 60 days, no recall election is organized.
- If the required number of signatures are submitted and certified by the county clerk, then the clerk’s office will announce an election date between 30 and 60 days in the future.
- If the person who is the target of the petition resigns prior to the petition being certified (generally 3-5 days after the signatures are submitted), then no recall election is called, and the elective office is filled as if it were a normal vacancy.
- Once the election date is announced, candidates can go to the clerk’s office and file their intent to run for the office. The existing office holder cannot be a candidate. Instead, that office holder continues to hold the office until the results of the election.
- In the election, each voter will cast two votes. The first is whether or not to retain the challenged office holder. The second is to determine who will replace the office holder, if the recall challenge gets a majority of the votes.
- If results of the recall challenge vote fail to get at least 50% plus one vote in favor of recalling the office holder, the office holder is not voted out.
- If the results has the recall challenge succeeding, the office holder is legally removed from the office, which is then declared ‘vacant’. At this point the results of the second vote are tallied and the winner of that tally (plurality, not majority) assumes the elective office for the rest of the original term.
- As we understand it, Colorado election law requires that if there is more than one recall election being sought, the groups seeking the recall must be legally separate. This means two different petition efforts.
- There cannot be a direct legal connection between those seeking the recall and those who wish to run for the possibly vacant office.
So what does all this mean for JeffCo?
Well first, it means that for a recall to actually change control of the Board, there needs to be, in fact, two recalls. Otherwise, if only one recall is submitted, WNW and their backers will retain control of the Board.
The trick lies in point 6) above and in how the Board selects a replacement member.
Board policy states that if a seat on the Board becomes vacant, then after 60 days, the President of the Board appoints someone to fill the vacancy. Here is how that could play out in Jeffco.
Ken Witt is the President of the Board, Julie Williams is the 1st Vice-President.
A recall petition drive is launched against Witt. Just before or immediately after the signatures are delivered to the County Clerk, Wtt resigns. So long as he does it prior to the certification of the signatures, the recall petition becomes null and void and the Board replaces Witt following their normal process. In this case, the position of President of the Board is assumed by Julie Williams, the 1st Vice President. After 60 days, she appoints a replacement (it cannot be Witt), presumably someone who is similar to Witt.
On the other hand, what happens if two petition drives are launched, one against Witt and one against Williams? There will be no resignation by both because Lesley Dalhkemper is the 2nd Vice-President. If both Witt and Williams resigned, it would fall to Lesley to name replacements. It is very unlikely that she would name someone pleasing to WNW!
The options for WNW then become narrower. They most likely would fight both recall votes but, and this is very important, they could not afford to lose even one of them!
Let’s go back to our scenario and see how things can play out.
Recall efforts are launched against both Witt and Williams.
Scenario A – they play tough: Neither Witt or Williams resigns. Both petition efforts are successful and an election is called. Both sides have candidates who run for the office.
Situations in which WNW wins:
1) Witt & Williams both survive the recall vote.
2) One or more of them lose, but their favored replacement candidate wins.
Situations in which WNW loses:
Either or both Witt & Williams loses the recall vote and at least one non-WNW candidate wins. That non-WNW candidate sides with Ms. Dahlkemper and Ms. Fellman, and they take back control of the Board.
Scenario B – they play clever: One of them resigns (say Williams), the other does not. Now it becomes a matter of timing.
Situations in which WNW wins:
1) From the date of resignation, if 60 days pass without an actual recall election, Witt (in our hypothetical case) would appoint a replacement for Williams who would not be subject to a recall for at least six months. The replacement is then elected to the 1st Vice-President’s slot. If all of this can happen before Witt’s recall petition is certified, he could then resign, the new 1st Vice-President would wait 60 days, then appoint a replacement and WNW’s backers retain control.
2) The same scenario as above, only Witt’s recall petition is certified before he can name a replacement. An election is held and Witt either fights off the recall or, if recalled, their favored candidate wins the second vote.
Situations in which WNW loses:
1) The petition against Witt is certified less than 60 days after Williams resigns. Witt must now face a recall election and potential second vote. Witt loses the recall and a non-WNW candidate wins. The new candidate sides with Ms. Dahlkemper and Ms. Fellman, and they take back control of the Board.
Scenario C – they play dirty (this is more of an add-on to Scenarios A & B): They choose either A or B, but at the same time, launch their own recall petition against either Dahlkemper or Fellman. Scenario B plays out the way outlined above, but now resources need to be stretched to cover three to four races instead of one to two. Scenario C allows them to try and use their main resource, money, to its best advantage. It also would have the possible effect of ‘muddying the water’. The gamble is that most voters are still low-information voters and so might decide to ‘chuck them all out’, in which case there are now three to four races for the open seats and they only need to win two to retain control.
In our estimation, while Scenario C is a definite possibility, the odds of its success are not that great. Any Board recall election will have a large core of highly motivated voters who will quickly rally around Dahlkemper and Fellman. In this case, it is very likely that if enough voters turn out to recall Witt or Williams, those same voters will keep Dahlkemper and Fellman from losing their recall elections. Scenario C, while playing very dirty and trying to take maximum advantage of a presumed money advantage, is still a ‘Hail Mary’ pass to the end-zone. It might work, but it would be their last-ditch effort.
Further complexities: Replacement candidates need to be ready to run at the drop of a hat. The candidates will basically have from the time the Clerk’s office certifies the petition to the election date, which can be between 30 and 60 days. That is not a lot of time to set up a political campaign organization.
What does it all mean?
By all of the above, do we mean to say a recall is not possible? NO!
In our opinion, a recall election is very likely. The real question is will it achieve its goal, i.e, taking control of the Board away from WNW and their backers.
We think it is very achievable…but only if everyone is aware of hoops that have to be jumped through, and enough preparation is done ahead of time.
Common Preparation Steps
We are going to assume that a group can quickly come up with why WNW should be recalled in 200 words or less pretty quickly. Limiting it to 200 words could be the difficulty!
- Gathering signatures. 60 days to gather 15,000 valid signatures is not a lot of time. It means an average of valid 250 signatures per day. The internet does not count, but sometimes people think it does. Signing a petition online at change.org is not a legal petition in the eyes of Colorado law. Also, not all of the signatures are going to be valid, so you would probably need to collect closer to 300-325 per day. That means a lot of people (“feet on the street”). Since the window is 60 days, you need to have people trained, equipped (working pens, clipboards, card tables, reams of petition forms), and assigned to high traffic areas. In many cases notification and permission of a land or building owner needs to be gotten ahead of time. Maps crossed-referenced with voter lists are also helpful, especially for door-to-door signature campaigns.
- Replacement candidates. If people are smart, they should be ready to back just one replacement candidate. A recall election can be successful, but the effort wasted because the replacement vote is split between too many candidates. In that scenario, another a pro-WNW candidate could slip in with a minority of the vote because the majority of voters were had split their votes, thus weakening their strength.
- Recall Campaign. From the time the signatures start being collected to the time the election is actually held is less than 120 days or four months. Talk to any candidate. Is four months enough time to set up, run, and win a campaign? On a shoe-string? The answer you will is ‘maybe…if everybody is very organized and already in place.’ Running a recall election is even tougher because someone else also needs to run an election campaign at the same time. So resources can be stretched. The best solution is preparation, preparation, and more preparation.
All of this puts a premium on organization and funds. WNW will most likely have a lot of funds. JeffCo would have to make the difference up with people.
What does this mean right now?
What it means is, if you want to recall WNW and take control back, you will need to organize fast and well. The best way, in our opinion, that you can do that is to take advantage of existing groups. That is why we published yesterday a list of four groups that have already been fighting the changes WNW is imposing. They (including ourselves) have at least a modicum of organization, know the legal terrain, and have spent months trying to build networks. In our estimation, Jeffco’s best bet lies in you, the reader, contacting those groups and help them build their networks.
It may not be as instantly satisfying as launching your own group, but it is far more likely to be successful. Since they are in place, there is less wasted time and energy setting things up. They already know most of the legal aspects and have some resources on tap. As more of you volunteer and donate, they will be able to expand in a very rapid manner. It may still seem slow to you, but for people who know organizations, it will seem incredibly fast!
So, if you want to make a difference right now, think about your skills and assets, including time. Then contact one of the groups below. You will have to be patient! Because right now, emails, comments, and posts are flying by faster than sound. Speaking for one of the groups, we are running as hard as we can to stay in front of it, and we are sure the other groups are doing the same.
So take that anger. Take that energy. And bank it. Calm yourself down, but keep the fire burning, under control, inside. Contact one of the groups. They should get back to you within a few days or a week. In the meantime, talk to your neighbors, friends, colleagues, family, and acquaintances. Let them know what is going on. And be ready for the call.
Here are the organizations and contacts:
- Join and help Support Jeffco Kids. “SJK” is a 501(c)4 organization, and so can accept donations and engage in political activities. It has worked hard at organizing opposition to WNW policies in the community, and they seem to be one of the key groups. You can join their mailing list here, and donate here.
- Join JeffcoExodus. This is a new group. They are looking for volunteers whose role it will be to participate in two-way communication with their network and the volunteer’s local community. At times these volunteers will need to quickly disseminate factual information to their own school and networks. Volunteers will also gather factual information and personal stories about staff turnover, families choosing to leave Jeffco, and other significant effects the actions of this Board Majority are having on school communities. You can contact them at this email: JeffcoExodus@gmail.com.
- Your local PTA. Even if you do not have a child in school, your local PTA can use your help and input. Michelle Patterson, the President of JeffCo PTA, gave a blistering speech to WNW at the meeting. What ever happens, the JeffCo PTA will be in the thick of things. Either contact your local school or the County PTA here: JeffCo PTA Volunteers.
- Help JeffCo School Board Watch! Yes, you can help us. There are many things we have wanted to do that we just do not have the time for, such as maintaining a list of news articles/stories, tracking how much WNW has cost the taxpayers, updating a list of significant board activities, monitoring social media and keeping us aware of what is happening where, or even writing articles for us (we will work with you on topic and editing practices). You can email us at Jeffcowatchfirstname.lastname@example.org.
- Student Organizations. We know that our students are organizing. Their protests were not a one time thing (although WNW wishes they were). They have announced plans to organize across the county and to fight for the recall of WNW. We would greatly appreciate it if they would contact us so we can help keep people informed, but also be able to direct to them people who want to help them in their fight. If you know some of the student leaders, we recommend offering them your help and support, but don’t try to run them. First, we doubt that they would let you. Second, in our opinion, based on their current performance, they are doing pretty good already! We at the BoardWatch admire, respect, and support our Jeffco Rebels!
When we fight together – We Win!