(The following is based on 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. This page is based upon a post done by JeffCoSchoolBoardWatch on June 28, 2014).
If any elected officials deserve to be recalled, it is Witt, Newkirk, and Williams. We have seen plenty of comments on this site and others, from people wanting to know when a recall effort will be launched.
We at JeffCo School Board Watch certainly agree with this sentiment. But it is not as easy as just signing a petition. On this page, we are going to explore and explain what a recall of a School Board member involves, both from a legal process and from a practical politics aspect. At the end of the post we will offer some steps that you as individuals can take to help bring closer the day when we can take back our school district!
Please note that JeffCo School Board Watch is not a political organization and is not organizing a recall. That will be up to others. We are strictly an information site and are not engaged in electioneering.
The Legal Stuff
The ability to recall an elected official in Colorado is guaranteed in Article 21 of the Colorado Constitution. It turns out that different recall rules apply depending on the nature of the office. Recall of school district officials is governed by Colorado Revised Statutes 1-12-105 which says:
TITLE 1. ELECTIONS
GENERAL, PRIMARY, AND CONGRESSIONAL VACANCY ELECTIONS
ARTICLE 12. RECALL AND VACANCIES IN OFFICE
PART 1. RECALL FROM OFFICE
C.R.S. 1-12-105 (2013)
1-12-105. Signatures required for school district officers
A petition to recall a school district officer shall be signed by eligible electors of the school district equal in number to at least forty percent of those electors who voted in such district in the last preceding election at which the director to be recalled was elected as indicated by the pollbook or abstract for such election. If no such election was held, the petition shall be signed by eligible electors of the school district equal in number to at least ten percent of those electors residing within the school district on the date that the petition is approved as to form under section 1-12-108 (4). In no case shall the number required for recall be less than ten percent of eligible electors qualified to vote in the most recent biennial school election; except that no more than fifteen thousand signatures is required.
According to this statute, a petition to recall a school board member must have signatures equal to 40% of the total votes for that office in the last election. In our case, 40% of 136,000 votes is 54,400. If the school board member was not elected, but appointed, there would be no election to base the signature threshold on, so in those cases, signatures from 10% of the registered voters (those eligible to vote) would be required. In JeffCo’s case, that is about 415,000 registered voters, so 41,500 would be required to launch a recall election against an appointed official. But then the section Michael noted comes into play. The last sentence says that a successful petition must have the signatures of at least 10% of registered voters, unless that number is more than 15,000. If the number is higher than 15,000, then only 15,000 are required!
This is a much lower threshold than our original estimate of 34,000.
Below are the key points:
1) In Section 4 of Article 21, it states that municipal officials (which WNW qualify as) cannot have a recall filed against them until they have held office for at least six months. The six month rule still applies here.
WNW, therefore, became eligible for recall in May.
2) Enough registered voters must sign the petition to equal or exceed 25% of the total number of voters who voted in the official election. Because of the last sentence in CRS 1-12-105, only 15,000 valid signatures are required to certify a petition of recall against a member of WNW.
Last November an average of 136,000 people voted for the School Board seats. Out of 413,000 registered voters, this was a 33% turnout.
3) The recall petition must first be filed with the county clerk and recorder’s office in the county where the administrative offices of the school district reside, 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.
That means any petition to recall either Witt, Newkirk, or Williamso would require a minimum of 15,000 valid signatures, or about
250 valid signatures per day.
4) If at the end of 60 days, enough valid signatures are collected, filed, and verified by the
county clerk and recorder’s office, then the county clerk and recorder shall appoint someone who will set a date for the recall election.
The key here is “valid signatures”. Most organizations involved in any kind of legal petition anticipate that many signatures will not be valid. A rule of thumb in signature gathering is to get 20% to 50% more than the minimum.
5) The recall election must held between 30 and 60 days after the certification by the
county clerk and recorder’s office, unless there is a general election already scheduled within 90 days, in which case the recall election be placed on the general election ballot.
This fall we have a general election scheduled for November 4th this year. If a recall petition is launched, submitted, and certified between August 6th and October 5th, then the recall election would be held on the general election day.
6) If a recall petition and election is held but the elected official is not recalled, then any other petition during the next year of that office holder’s term will require valid signatures equal or greater than 150% of the original number of required signatures. Also, the official may be able to be reimbursed by either the state or the local governing entity for the campaign costs involved in the recall election.
In short, if a recall for a member of WNW gets enough signatures to be certified, but fails to get enough votes to effect the recall, then a second petition effort would require 22,500 signatures.
7) People who want to replace the challenged official can begin gathering signatures to place them on the ballot starting the day the recall petition form is approved and ending 10 days after the recall petition is certified and the county clerk and recorder has announced the date of the recall election.
8) An official who is the target of a recall petition has up until five days After a recall petition is certified by the county clerk and recorder, the target official has five days in which to resign. If the official resigns, then the normal replacement process will be used and the recall election will be canceled. If the official does not resign within five days, the recall election will be held (even if the official resigns later), and if the recall effort gets a majority of the votes, then the candidate with the most number of votes will be elected to the position.
You may recall the case of Senator Evie Hudak, who chose to resign before a recall petition was certified in order to ensure Democrats retained a majority in the state Senate.
In the case of JeffCo, we went through something like this last year. Board Member Robin Johnson resigned on August 8, 2013. The BOE had 60 days to select a replacement to finish her term. The board was unable to reach a consensus and so, after 60 days the appointment of Johnson’s replacement fell to then board president, Lesley Dahlkemper.
So, if a recall petition is certified for, say, Williams, Williams could simply resign her seat and at the end of sixty days Ken Witt would appoint her replacement. Therefore, in order to actually change the voting majority of the Board, at least two members of WNW would have to have recall petitions certified.
At that point, other complications are involved in Colorado election law. The two campaigns would have to be sponsored, funded, and run separately with no connection between them. So if two of WNW were targeted, there would then have to be two completely separate recall efforts. If all three, then three completely separate recall efforts. One petition gatherer cannot get signatures on two petitions at once.
The Political Stuff
Now that we have covered the legal ground, what are the political realities?
Discussions among those who practice politics as a profession or serious hobby tell us that any election, but especially a recall, relies on two major components – money and a solid corps of volunteers.
Because of the short time (60 days) to collect signatures, there is a growing tendency by well funded political action committees (PACs) to hire professional signature-gathering organizations and pay for the “feet on the street.” It can be done wholly by volunteers, but it takes a lot of organization, determination, and large numbers of volunteers.
Which brings up money.
Any kind of election/petition drive takes money. No one likes talking about it, but there is also no escaping it. Money is required for signature forms, signs, permits, buttons, stickers, tags, bumper stickers, yard signs, mailers, and so on. Then there are the other costs of actually running a campaign. The best estimate we have heard is $500,000 – $750,000 per recall election. So to have a realistic chance of recalling of, say, Witt and Williams (getting rid of the “W’s”) would require between $1 to $1.5 million. Some of that can be covered by people volunteering personal resources, but fundamentally, you need cash to do this.
Even with money and volunteers, experts say petition drives often fail because the general public is unaware of the issues, and instinctively reject petitions they do not understand.
The 70% Factor
The reality is that while you and a high percentage of parents, teachers, admins, etc. are aware of what is happening, 70% of JeffCo residents do not have children in school and have no clue that anything is wrong.
What they know is what they see or hear on the news or read in the paper. Most of the press talks about what’s happening as nothing more than a labor dispute, a fight between the new board and the teacher’s union. Channel 7 posted two images on social media. One showing WNW protestors and the other showing WNW supporters outside the Ed Center prior to a board meeting to highlight the fight happening in our district. However, the news station failed to say that there were hundreds of WNW protestors and less than a dozen supporters. If all you saw were the two images without context, you know there’s something going on but don’t understand just how upset parents, teachers, etc. are.
So if you want a recall, YOU first need to work on getting the word out. YOU need to make the effort to help us reach that 70% of residents who don’t know what’s happening. YOU have to tell them about WNW and their reckless spending, state law and policy violations, and focus on pushing their political agenda through no matter what.
This is not the time to sit back and say “I’m too busy, someone else will do it.” If everyone thinks that, no one does anything. It has to be YOU. YOU have to take action yourself and motivate others to help you take action.
That is how YOU can keep…