Oct 4, 2023 - Politics

A quarter of Colorado lawmakers weren't elected in popular vote

Illustration of the Colorado State Capitol with lines radiating from it.

Photo Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios. Photo: DivInc

More than 1 in 4 Colorado state lawmakers got their seats without a typical election and instead were picked by a small number of party insiders during vacancy balloting.

Driving the news: The latest is Manny Rutinel, who was selected Monday by a Democratic Party committee to represent Commerce City's House District 32 following the departure of state Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet.

  • He won the seat by a 24 to 5 vote, the Colorado Sun reports, a fraction of the district's roughly 89,000 residents and 47,000 active voters.

Why it matters: Colorado is one of only four states to replace lawmakers who depart in the middle of a term with a vacancy committee run by that lawmaker's political party.

What's happening: The process is drawing complaints for its lack of transparency and end-around of the popular vote, the Denver Post reports. It also excludes the largest voting bloc in Colorado: unaffiliated voters.

What they're saying: "The entire process is undemocratic," said state Rep. Tim Hernández (D-Denver), who won a vacancy election in August with just 39 votes.

The big picture: In the 2023 legislative session, 24 of the 100 lawmakers in the House and Senate were appointed to seats by a vacancy committee at some point, the Sun found.

  • And since then the number has grown, including two vacancy elections in the last month.

How it works: Vacancy committee elections, which take a month, are designed to make it more efficient to replace lawmakers because elections are time-consuming and costly.

What to watch: Colorado lawmakers are discussing possible reforms to filling vacancies or limits on the ability for those appointed to the positions to run in future elections, but it's unclear if any will have momentum in the next session.


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