06/18/2010 02:59 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Q & A with Jennifer Coken on Challenging Denial of Her Petition for HD 4 Democratic Primary

Jennifer Coken wants to be my state representative. She gathered 1,400 signatures to petition her way on to the Democratic primary ballot for House District 4 (which includes northwest Denver). She needed 849 signatures. The Secretary of State invalidated enough signatures to disqualify her from the ballot. This brings up a quirky point of election law; some of the signatures were invalidated because some of the same people who first signed Coken's petition then also signed Amber Tafoya's petition (Amber's petition was approved and she is on the primary ballot along with Dan Pabon in HD4). But because Tafoya turned her petition in first, those signatures were disqualified on Coken's petition.

Jennifer is challenging the Secretary of State's decision. I asked her about the challenge.

MK: There are actually two issues going on here, the timing of some signatures, and the validity of others. Seventeen people signed first yours, then Amber Tafoya's petitions. At first glance it seems pretty obvious that one qualified person should be able to sign two (or 3 or 4) different petitions and be counted for all, but apparently not. What's the Secretary of State's basis for the denial, and what's your argument against this?

JC: Colorado Revised Statute 1-4-902 states that a person cannot sign more than one petition. Rule 17.3.12 of CCR 1505-1 specifically directs: "Where an elector may sign more than one petition, the first signature(s) filed up to the maximum allowed, shall be the ones that are counted." In this case, a person CANNOT sign more than one petition and there is no rule governing how the Secretary of State counts those signatures. I think that the Secretary of State is using Rule 17.3.12 to back up their denial of these 17 signatures. Given there is no ruling on this, I think that the person who signs the petition first should be counted.

MK: The Secretary of State also invalidated 94 other signatures that you say are actually valid. Is there a way to get those re-evaluated, and is it enough to get you on the primary ballot?

JC: All 94 were improperly invalidated for a variety of reasons -- the Secretary of State could not find the elector, they could not read their handwriting, etc. All of those signatures should be accepted. The Secretary of State's office had a large number of petitions to validate (I think 13 total). Their staff and volunteers were working long hours. There will always be human error. Unfortunately, there is no period of time allowed a candidate who is denied being on the ballot to verify those signatures that were rejected. Our team spent countless hours pouring through every signature that was rejected and found 94 that should have been counted. Between these signatures and the 17 named above, that will be plenty to get me on the ballot.

MK: What's the process to challenge the denial of your petition?

JC: We filed a legal challenge in District Court asking for an evidentiary hearing so that we can present our case before a judge. We are hopeful that the hearing will be held as soon as possible.

MK: If I was a registered Democrat and had signed both petitions (if you aren't tied to a particular candidate, a competitive primary makes thing more interesting) I think I'd be pretty upset if my signature didn't count solely because of who turned their paperwork in first. If you end up in the State House, would you run a bill to clarify this timing issue for petitioning?

JC: Absolutely.

MK: Anything you want to say to House District 4 Democrats who might read this?

JC: I appreciate the support we've seen out of House District 4. I'm fighting to make sure that the voters of House District 4 have the opportunity to consider all of the candidates on the ballot.