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A lot of people want to run for office in Colorado this year. Here’s what it takes to actually get on the ballot

Candidates may start gathering petition signatures this week. If they go the caucus and assembly route, they must start gathering support ahead of March
Close-up Of Businessperson Hands Putting Ballot In Box At Desk.

The 2024 general election is less than 11 months away and a wave of candidates are filing paperwork to run in Colorado’s eight congressional districts, 16 state Senate districts and 65 House districts.

But jumping into a race doesn’t guarantee someone a spot on the ballot for the June 25 primary, let alone the Nov. 5 general election. Candidates must spend big money to qualify for the contest, or they can try to pick up enough support from members of their political party through what’s called the caucus and assembly process.

The mad dash to make the ballot is underway, as the primary ballot must be set by April 26.

Here’s how the process works for Democratic and Republican candidates:

Candidates must meet certain qualifications

The federal and state governments set qualifications for candidates to run for elective office.

First off, candidates must have been affiliated with a political party by Jan. 1 to seek the Democratic or Republican nomination.

To run for the U.S. House, candidates must:

  • Be at least 25 years old
  • Be a U.S. citizen for at least seven years
  • Live in the state they seek to represent, though not necessarily in the congressional district where they’re running

Anyone running for office in Colorado must be a U.S. citizen. But that’s not the only requirement.

To run for state Senate or House, candidates must:

  • Be at least 25 years old
  • Live in the district they are seeking to represent for at least one year

To run for University of Colorado regent, state Board of Education or district attorney, candidates must:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Be a Colorado resident and live in the district they’re running in, unless they’re running for a statewide at-large seat

The first step to run for office is filing with the Federal Election Commission to run for Congress or with the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office to run for state offices.

The caucus and assembly process

The caucus and assembly process is the traditional, grassroots method of getting on the ballot. It’s also the least predictable route to being elected.

Candidates must cultivate support among party members who show up to precinct caucuses, where a handful of people – sometimes only two or three – gather to throw their support behind someone and elect delegates. Those delegates move on to county, district and state assemblies where they help form party platforms and nominate candidates for everything from county offices to the U.S. Senate.

Only voters registered as Republicans or Democrats by Feb. 16 may attend precinct caucuses, which must be held between March 5 and 9. Typically, the caucuses and subsequent assemblies draw mostly party activists. That’s because it takes dedication – and a good deal of time – to participate.

To make the ballot through the caucus and assembly, candidates must get at least 30% of the delegate vote at each step. This limits the number of candidates who may emerge from an assembly to three for each office, though it’s often fewer.

For example, in the 2022 gubernatorial caucus and assembly process, Republicans nominated then-state Rep. Ron Hanks for U.S. Senate over five other candidates. But he lost the GOP primary to Joe O’Dea, who gathered signatures to get on the ballot.

The caucus and assembly process can be somewhat unpredictable because delegates may switch their support from one candidate to another at the last minute or support a surprise candidate. U.S. Rep. Ken Buck got a surprise challenger in the 2022 4th Congressional District assembly, but easily defeated him in the primary.

The petition process

Candidates may also petition to get on the ballot by gathering signatures from voters registered to their party. Those signatures are then reviewed and confirmed by the Secretary of State’s Office.

Tuesday's the first day that Democratic or Republican candidates may begin gathering those signatures. Signatures must be submitted by March 19.

The signature-gathering rules are somewhat complicated, and going the petition route can be expensive – as in tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars expensive – especially for statewide candidates who typically hire private firms to do the work. For instance, Republican secretary of state candidate Pam Anderson spent more than $121,000 to collect the 8,000 voter signatures she needed to make the ballot in 2022.

Here are the requirements:

  • U.S. House, state Board of Education and CU regent candidates must collect whichever is lesser: 1,500 signatures or 10% of the votes cast in the last primary election (or general election if there was no primary) held in the district
  • State House and Senate candidates must collect whichever is lesser: 1,000 signatures or 30% of the votes cast in the last primary election (or general election if there was no primary) held in the district
  • Candidates running for at-large University of Colorado regent and Board of Education seats must collect 500 signatures from each of the state’s eight congressional districts for a total of 4,000 signatures

There’s often a race to submit signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office because once a voter has been counted on one candidate’s petition, they can’t be counted for another one running for the same office.

Problems may also arise with the signature-gathering process.

Several candidates failed to make the 2022 congressional ballot because their signatures were deemed insufficient. And in one instance, six signature gatherers were charged in federal court after allegedly submitting signatures of dead people and those who didn’t match voter files.

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