DENVER (CBS4)– A challenge in court could prompt changes in how candidates and issues get on the ballot in Colorado. The case centers on last year’s gubernatorial race and allegations of fraud that almost knocked a front-runner off the ballot and turned the political world upside down.
Republican Walker Stapleton is suing the company he hired to collect signatures to put him on the primary ballot. He accuses Kennedy Enterprises of fraud, lying and a cover-up.
“He and his campaign did everything they could to find out about what was going on and was surprised by the problems that developed at the last minute,” said Stan Garnett, a prominent Democrat and senior partner with Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber, Shreck.
Garnett says what happened to Stapleton could happen to any candidate. The complaint alleges Daniel Kennedy knowingly used unqualified signature gatherers, had other qualified people take credit, and then lied to the Stapleton campaign about it. Kennedy denies the allegations but Garnett says the petition process encourages cheating. Stapleton, he says, paid $11 per signature.
“The more expensive it is, the more incentive there is for people to cut corners as they’re doing it,” said Garnett.
The impact to democracy, he suggests, is significant, “If the mechanics to get on the ballot and to run are too complicated or too confusing or too risky and you’re somehow going to get embarrassed by some scandal as your opponents accuse you of something, there will be a lot of good qualified people who won’t run.”
He had a warning for the large field of Democrats challenging Sen. Cory Gardner in 2020, many of whom will petition on the ballot, “It doesn’t take much, particularly in a heated primary with several candidates, to have a problem that derails a campaign.”
Garnett is hoping the case will spur legislation to change the signature gathering process in Colorado so that signature gatherers are not payed per signature and are not required to be Colorado residents. He says it’s a seasonal job after all, a job that will be in high demand next year.
Stapleton is asking the court for the $250,000 he says he paid Kennedy Enterprises as well as other damages. The case goes to trial Monday.