Federal judge: Amendment 71’s signature quota is unconstitutional

Update: The Colorado Secretary of State’s office filed a response to Judge Martinez on March 9, and attorney Ralph Ogden responded on behalf of the plaintiffs on March 13. Judge Martinez may soon issue a final judgement.

The Colorado Secretary of State’s office had until March 9 to convince him otherwise, or the 2 percent rule’s out

On Feb. 14, a federal judge gave the Colorado Secretary of State until March 9 to show that a section of Amendment 71 is constitutional, or he’ll rule it’s not.

Passed by voters in 2016, Amendment 71 made it hugely expensive and next to impossible for grassroots groups to change the state constitution. It required at least 2 percent of the registered voters in each of Colorado’s 35 senate districts to sign a petition to amend the state constitution for that amendment to make the ballot.

It also mandated that Colorado voters had to approve any amendment that added to the constitution by a supermajority of 55 percent instead of a majority of 50.01 percent. It left intact the 50.01 percent requirement to delete an amendment from the constitution.

In April, attorney Ralph Ogden filed suit against Amendment 71 as unconstitutional in part because it allows the votes in any one senate district to bear heavier “weight” than votes in the 34 other districts combined, violating the one-person, one-vote rule protected by the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

If proponents of a ballot initiative couldn’t gather signatures from 2 percent of the registered voters in any one of the 35 senate districts, it would prevent the measure from ever appearing on the ballot, even if the vast majority of Colorado voters want it and would vote for it.

On Feb. 14, Federal Judge William J. Martinez agreed, throwing out a motion to dismiss the case filed by the defendant, Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams. At the same time, Judge Martinez ordered the secretary of state to show cause by March 9th why the judge should not enter both a final judgment in the plaintiffs’ favor and issue a permanent injunction barring the secretary from enforcing the unconstitutional part of the amendment.

He also requested Williams’ office provide any info on upcoming 2018 election dates and deadlines that might be affected by the ballot initiative process.

Before 2016, 5 percent of Colorado voters from anywhere in the state had to sign a petition in order to place an initiative on the ballot. Getting that 5 percent signed was difficult, with just one-third of all citizen ballot initiative attempts over the last 10 years getting on the ballot. According to the plaintiffs’ complaint, the 2 percent requirement would nearly triple the cost of collecting the required number of signatures, making it impossible for most citizens’ groups to place their ideas on the ballot and ensuring that only the wealthiest organizations could do so.

“We’re elated Amendment 71’s unconstitutional requirements are being thrown out,” said Sara Wright, director of communications for the Foundation. “Passed following a $3 million campaign funded by special interests like the oil and gas industry, Amendment 71 aimed to curb citizen groups seeking to change Colorado law in the public interest.”

The plaintiffs in the case include William Semple, as an individual Colorado voter; Cooperate Colorado, the nonprofit group that garnered enough signatures to place initiative #20 on the ballot as Amendment 69; ColoradoCareYes, the nonprofit issue committee that unsuccessfully campaigned for ColoradoCare’s passage in 2016; and Dan Hayes, a proponent for initiative #4 “Limit on Local Housing Growth.”

Both Semple and Ogden serve on the Board of Directors of the Colorado Foundation for Universal Health Care.

The Colorado Foundation for Universal Health Care promotes a not-for-profit health care financing system at the state and national level that pays for comprehensive, high quality, affordable health care services for everyone.


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