The process to replace a state representative who resigned from office takes place next week, but the constitution of the committee to select her replacement was determined long before she resigned.
House District 12 Rep. Tracey Bernett resigned from her position Jan. 8, the day before Colorado’s 2023 legislative session began, after being charged with falsifying her home address. Last year, Bernett ran for re-election in House District 12, which had previously included Longmont and her primary residence for the 2020 election, with a Louisville address she is accused of not actually living at.
After an investigation, the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office charged Bernett with attempting to influence a public servant, forgery and residence-false information, all felonies, along with misdemeanor perjury and procuring false registration. As ballots had already been mailed to voters and despite the charges, Bernett won reelection for House District 12 with more than three-quarters of the vote.
The process to fill a vacancy in the office of state representative is determined by state statute, explained Amy Weinstein, chair of the Boulder County Democratic Party. State law requires that a vacancy committee be formed in that district by the political party to which the elected member belonged prior to vacating the office.
“There is a legal authority that governs how this is done and all we’re doing — all the party does, really — is deliver the process,” she said.
The House District 12 vacancy committee is composed of Boulder County Democrats who lived within the boundaries of the house district as of Jan. 8, including precinct committee people, precinct support people, area coordinators, elected members of the Colorado General Assembly and House District 12 Officers.
“When people get concerned about whether this is a smoke-filled room with party insiders — all we’re doing is facilitating the process,” Weinstein said. “The constitution of the vacancy committee has been determined long before the vacancy ever happened.”
Both major political parties for counties must hold an organization meeting between Feb. 1-15 in odd numbered years. Called the Biannual Reorganizational Meeting, members elect officers and select vacancy committee designees.
That means the makeup of the vacancy committee to replace Bernett — or any other vacated position held by a Democrat or Republican — had been determined in February of 2021.
A vacancy committee must certify the appointment with Colorado Secretary of State within 30 days of when the vacancy occurred. If they don’t, the Colorado governor must appoint someone within five days per state law.
“There’s 53 people on the vacancy committee, and we see that as a way more democratic process than having one person appoint someone,” Weinstein said.
Colorado is one of four states that use political party appointments to fill vacancies, along with Illinois, Indiana and North Dakota.
Twenty-five states run special elections to fill vacancies, but the issue with running a special election means that the people represented by the vacated position would be unrepresented for however long it takes to coordinate the special election. That could take months, and Colorado’s legislative session only lasts 120 days.
While the circumstances around Bernett’s resignation may be more unique than other legislative vacancies, filling elected office vacancies are not uncommon in Colorado whether it's a resignation, death or some other circumstance. Including House District 12, the state legislature has already had four vacancies this session.
In August, the Boulder County Democrats had to fill a vacancy in nomination in House District 10 after Rep. Edie Hooton announced on Aug. 1 that she would not seek another term. The vacancy committee chose Junie Joseph as her replacement.
The Boulder County Democrats will be hosting a candidate forum for the House District 12 seat 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Jan. 25, available to watch on the party’s YouTube channel. The vacancy committee will meet to fill the seat at 1 p.m. on Jan. 28.
Candidates intending to run to fill the vacancy are asked to complete the form at https://bcdp.co/HD12-Candidate.