DENVER — Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters is still running to be the Republican candidate for Colorado Secretary of State.
On Thursday, she was ordered not to leave the state without permission.
She made her first court appearance after turning herself in to face seven felonies and three misdemeanors from a Grand Jury indictment, including attempting to influence a public servant, criminal impersonation and identity theft.
Peters and her deputy clerk Belinda Knisley face charges for their alleged role in a breach of the Mesa County election software.
Regardless of what happens with Peters' case, it does not disqualify her from running for Colorado Secretary of State.
The qualifications for Colorado Secretary of State are:
- 25 years old
- Live in Colorado for two years before the election
- Be a U.S. Citizen
It is not a qualification to not be facing felony charges for election-related offenses.
"We have age requirements. We have residency requirements. There are campaign finance requirements while you're running for office. To me, this is just another part of the requirement list," said former Denver Elections Director Amber McReynolds.
McReynolds is the former executive director of National Vote at Home Institute and is a national expert on elections. She pointed out that the qualification to be an election judge are stricter than Colorado Secretary of State.
"Election judges can never be convicted of election fraud, any other election offense or fraud," said McReynolds.
An election judge is someone who processes election ballots, verifies signatures and helps reviews ballots if there is a question of which choice was marked.
The qualifications to be an election judge are written into state law:
- Registered electors of the state and are willing to serve
- Physically and mentally able to perform and complete the assigned tasks
- Must attend an instructional class
- Never been convicted of election fraud, any other election offense or fraud
- Not a candidate whose name appears on the ballot in the precinct they are appointed to serve nor immediately related to a candidate whose name appears on the ballot in the precinct that they are appointed to serve.
"I do think there's a gap in the law, specifically as it relates to Secretary of State and county clerk or chief election officials in a county, mainly because they're high public trust jobs," said McReynolds.
State law is specific to people convicted of felonies.
State statute 18-1.3-401 states: "Every person convicted of a felony… shall be disqualified from holding any office of honor, trust, or profit under the laws of this state…"
Is the Colorado Secretary of State a position of honor, trust or profit?
"I would say definitely trust, and they also handle the business licensing fees in terms of money that comes into the state," said McReynolds.
"The statute is clear that if you are currently serving a sentence or you are in confinement for a felony, you cannot hold public office," said Jessica Smith, Constitutional Law Partner at Holland & Hart.
Could Peters, who is trying to be the Republican candidate for Colorado Secretary of State, still run if she were to be convicted during her campaign?
"It doesn't list 'no felonies' as one of the qualifications, so yes, you could continue to run for public office having been convicted," said Smith.
Changing that could be a debate state lawmakers could take up.
"It's just based on statute, so yes, we could adopt stricter statutes for our public officials," said Smith.
"I think it's important to prohibit, on the front end, someone from running because that really speaks to if someone wins, they would not be able to serve. And then, that creates a vacancy, which creates, then, potentially another election or a back-and-forth on who should hold the office," said McReynolds. "If someone is unqualified from serving, they should also, by extension, be unqualified from running."
In the scenario of Peters being the Republican candidate and winning the November election, and being convicted of a felony and sentenced to prison or probation, state law bars her from serving, thus creating a vacancy to be filled by the governor.
Once someone convicted of a felony has served their sentence, they are eligible to serve in office again.