Three county residents turned in 6,400 signatures in an effort to recall La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt on Friday – 1,105 shy of the 7,505 needed to force a vote – but they vow to take advantage of a second 15-day collection period to cover their shortfall.
An unusual provision in Colorado law allows recall supporters another 15-day period to collect more signatures and to try to correct any deficiencies in signatures rejected by La Plata County Clerk and Recorder Tiffany Parker.
David Peters, one of the three county residents leading the recall, said recall supporters will be back out collecting more signatures during the additional 15-day period in a second, and final, effort to remove Lachelt from office.
“There’s plenty of enthusiasm out there. I’ll put it that way,” he said about the potential for collecting more signatures.
Peters and Ty Hawkins, another recall supporter, turned in about a 1½-foot stack of petitions about 12 minutes before their first deadline Friday.
“It was crazy the past couple of days. We got so many petitions turned in,” Hawkins said.
Parker will begin Monday to verify the 6,400 signatures received Friday. She has 15 business days to conduct those checks.
Moments after the shortfall was announced, Lachelt tweeted: “They needed 7,505 signatures to trigger a recall election. They brought in 6,400 unverified signatures. Thanks to all my many supporters who Declined to Sign. I look forward to continuing to serve La Plata County.”
Each petition section can hold up to 18 signatures, but some might not be completely filled out, or some lines might be scratched out, which would reduce the number of signatures on each petition.
Peters said, “I really want to thank all of the volunteers we had and their efforts, and I want to thank all the people of La Plata County who signed.”
Peters, Hawkins and Michael Cugnini launched the recall effort saying that Lachelt’s work on environmental lobbying harmed her attendance at county meetings. They also said she leveraged the duties of public office as a county commissioner to advance her interests and the interests of Western Leaders Network.
Lachelt, a Democrat, formed Western Leaders Network as a nonprofit, bipartisan platform for local and state officials to connect on conservation issues.
In a news release issued when the recall effort was first launched in February, Lachelt said: “I have been elected twice – first in 2012 and most recently in 2016. I’m term-limited. A special election is not only a waste of taxpayer dollars, it is also a subversion of the democratic process.”
Lachelt described her lobbying on environmental issues, such as the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed methane venting and flaring rule, as an effort to set “common sense” regulations for oil and gas drilling and operations.
La Plata County staff has verified that Lachelt has never voted against an oil and gas project in the county since she was elected in 2012.
Parker said the rejection rate of signatures is usually high because some people who sign may not be registered voters or do not properly fill out the petition.
The most common reason signatures are invalidated is because of an address does not match voter registration records, Parker said.
Parker recommends petitioners collect 15 percent more than the required amount, or about 8,630 signatures in this case.
Here’s a summary of the recall process after the second collection period:
Parker would have another 15 business days to review the re-submitted signatures to determine if indeed 7,505 valid voters’ signatures were obtained.If enough signatures are verified and deemed sufficient, the petition process enters a 15-day period when anyone eligible to vote in the election can file a written protest with the county clerk’s office objecting to the petition or the process of gathering signatures.Parker then would have 30 days to hold a hearing or designate another person to hold the hearing and rule on the validity of the written protests. Parker said she would normally designate someone else to hold the hearing because that provides a third-party check on her office’s decisions and work on the recall effort.If protests and objections are rejected, Lachelt would have five days to either submit a letter of opposition or to resign. A letter of opposition would send the recall to voters.If Lachelt chose to resign, the seat would be considered vacant, and the La Plata County Democratic Party would be able to fill the vacancy.A recall election would likely be set for a Tuesday in July or August. However, Parker said Friday that the number of protests and legal challenges could mean the recall election could be pushed to the General Election ballot in November.Candidates to replace Lachelt would also appear on the same ballot as the question of the recall of Lachelt, and if voters recall her, the winner of the race to replace Lachelt would become county commissioner to fill out the remaining term.People who wish to replace Lachelt can begin collecting signatures to appear on the ballot on the day Parker deems the number of valid signatures is sufficient to send the recall to a vote.Democrats who would like to appear on the ballot would need to collect 702 valid signatures, Republicans would need to collect 582 valid signatures, and unaffiliated petitioners would need to collect 601 valid signatures. Those numbers are equal to 25 percent of the turnout by party for the last race for the county commission in a general election.Parker said a special recall election would cost the county about $58,000, but if the election is pushed to the November General Election, it would eliminate that cost.