While writing about Colorado Congressman Doug Lamborn’s court battle to overturn his Secretary of State’s rejection of his nominating petition, I learned that Colorado is trying out a new system for validating petition signatures this year.
In Colorado, candidates have three paths to the ballot. Political parties can nominate at caucus up to two candidates for each office for the primary ballot. Candidates may collect signatures on nominating petitions—statewide candidates need 10,500 signatures, with 1,500 from each of Colorado’s seven Congressional districts; legislative candidates need up to 1,000 signatures. Colorado voters may also write in candidates on their ballot.
Even though Colorado requires far more signatures from candidates than South Dakota does, Colorado’s Secretary of State checks every signature on those petitions. Following the changes made by 2015 Senate Bill 68 (now, specifically, SDCL 12-1-36), South Dakota’s Secretary of State only conducts a random sample of signatures on each statewide candidate’s petition. So for one statewide candidate, Colorado checks over 10,000 signatures, while South Dakota checks between 360 and 700.
Following some signature shenanigans in 2016, Colorado passed a law (HB17-1088) making the verification process even more rigorous. This year the Colorado Secretary of State checks signatures against voter registration forms:
The secretary of state’s office contracts with Integrated Document Solutions, an agency within the Department of Personnel and Administration, to conduct the checks. The cost per hour is $46.99 to verify signatures, and officials said the total could reach as high as $100,000 this year.
The work takes place inside the IDS office near the Pueblo airport, where a few dozen employees sit at hexagon-shaped desks, working in two shifts that stretch from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. as they move line by line through 5,000 to 8,000 signatures a day.
A new computer software program — which cost the state $550,000 to develop and use for five years — helps automate parts of the process once done by hand.
To confirm signatures, the software puts an image of the petition next to the official voter record for comparison. If an initial review can’t authenticate a match, it moves to two supervisors who received special training and represent different political parties.
It takes only one of the supervisors to approve a signature and two of them to disqualify. So far, the process is rejecting about 5 percent of the signatures submitted, compared with less than 1 percent invalidated on mail ballots during elections [John Frank, “Colorado’s 2016 Election Was Stained by Forged Signatures. Here’s What the State Is Doing to Prevent It in 2018,” Denver Post, 2018.03.19].
If this process disqualifies a voter’s signature, the candidate gets three days to get a signed statement from that voter saying, “No, really! That’s my signature!”
Colorado has not applied this signature-verification process to ballot measure petitions yet; the Secretary of State says he wanted to see how it worked on smaller candidate petitions first.
Colorado reviews candidate petitions more rigorously to detect and deter fraud, but it also includes a double-check and a fix-it period to protect voters from disenfranchisement by shaky penmanship. In both regards, Colorado’s petition review process is better than South Dakota’s.
Remind me to include signature scans and fix-it periods in my comprehensive petition reform proposal for 2019!