10/07/2011 03:31 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Court Showdown Looms As Gessler, Johnson, Ortiz Square Off Over Colorado's Mail-In Ballots

A late September lawsuit filed against Denver's Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson by Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler attempts to stop Denver from mailing ballots to voters who were inactive in 2010. The action led a few high profile politicos, including Rachel Maddow and two U.S. Representatives, to step forward and voice their opposition to Gessler.

(Scroll down to watch Maddow's attacks on Gessler)

The Denver Post reports a district court judge has ruled Denver Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson may send ballots to inactive voters.

On October 5, Johnson gained an ally. When Gessler first filed suit, Pueblo County Clerk and Recorder Gilbert "Bo" Ortiz "reluctantly" agreed not to mail ballots to inactive voters from 2010. In a press release earlier this week, however, Ortiz announced he would join Denver's Clerk and Recorder as a defendant in the lawsuit filed by Secretary Gessler.

"The Secretary of State issued an order barring my office from mailing to active duty overseas personnel who did not vote in the 2010 election," said Ortiz in a press release. "I believe that these military voters need to be defended in this court ruling."

Today, according to the Pueblo Chieftain, a 'judicial showdown' begins. Johnson has already mailed ballots to all active and inactive voters in Denver. Ortiz, meanwhile, has 17,000 'inactive' ballots ready to mail. A 1 p.m. hearing in Denver will determine whether or not Ortiz can join the suit as a defendant.

While Secretary Gessler explains the suit is an attempt to preserve "statewide uniformity" of voting practices and that mailing ballots only to active voters "will be more economical than sending mail ballots to all inactive voters," many disagree.

Colorado Common Cause, an advocacy group believes Gessler has misinterpreted the law. "Colorado election code, particularly in mail ballot elections, demonstrates that the legislature intended to increase voter participation not decrease participation," writes Common Cause in a press release. "Gessler’s actions would violate the free speech and equal protection guaranteed in the First and Fourteenth Amendments."

Mi Familia Vota and the Urban League of Denver also joined the fray, filing an amicus brief Thursday in support of Johnson. “The steps that Secretary Gessler has taken may prevent eligible voters in Colorado from exercising their right to civic participation simply because they haven’t voted in the last year,” said MFV Colorado State Director Grace López Ramírez. Grace specifically mentioned more than 50,000 ballots that would not be sent to Latino, African American, and Senior Citizen households.

Responding to criticism, Gessler told the Denver Post "Ortiz is clearly fanning the political flames and covering up his own problems. His personal attacks are misplaced ... He should understand that the legislature makes the law, and I merely enforce it."

I actually served overseas in the military during an election. Most clerks bend over backwards to help military voters, but it seems Clerk Ortiz has been negligent. First, he misprinted 66,000 ballots and is already late in mailing to overseas voters. Second, there are 80 overseas, inactive military voters in Pueblo, and he has e-mail for 64. He should have been reaching out to them well before now. Likewise, he should have already contacted the other 16 by mail or phone. In short, Clerk Ortiz should manage his election to help military voters, rather than twist the law to cover his own shortcomings.

Maddow's interview with Denver Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson: