Think Before You Ink
Signing Petitions is Not Necessarily a Civic Duty
As a general election approaches, voters are often asked to sign a variety of initiative petitions “just to get it on the ballot so people can vote on it.” This reasoning is inadequate; your signature should be considered at least as valuable as your vote. Far fewer signatures are required to qualify an initiative for the ballot than votes for it to pass.
To help you decide whether or not to sign a petition, the League of Women Voters of Colorado offers these points to consider:
Is it complex? Some issues can be decided by a simple “yes” or “no” vote, but complex issues need to be thoroughly examined and debated in a legislative arena — not a grocery store parking lot — before writing onto a ballot. Some initiatives are not well written, or contain conflicts that may require court resolution or interpretation.
Whose idea is it? You can find out the designated representatives and registered issue committees on the Secretary of State’s website.
All signature gatherers are required to wear a badge that identifies them as “volunteer circulator” or “paid circulator”. If the signature gatherer is not wearing a badge, do not sign. If s/he is a paid circulator, the badge should also give the name and phone number of whoever hired her/him.
How will it be funded? An unfunded mandate or a recall of an elected official who will be up for reelection soon anyway, may impact other essential programs by diverting budget funds.
Does it belong in the Constitution? If an initiative intends to amend the U.S. or state Constitution, consider whether it really belongs there. Is is a fundamental right or principle that should be protected from change? Correcting a constitutional amendment requires another constitutional amendment — and another vote of the people — which is cumbersome and costly.
A Closer Look at the Life of a Colorado Ballot Initiative
What do the legalization of marijuana (2012 – approved) and providing for a severance tax on certain oil and natural gas products (1952 – defeated) have in common? Both were citizen initiatives.
In 1910, the age of populism was alive and well in Colorado. A constitutional referendum was placed on the ballot by the legislature to provide authority for the citizen initiative and referendum process. It was approved by voters and two years later, Colorado voters found 21 initiatives on their ballot plus 12 referenda for a total of 33 issues to decide.
Over the years, the requirements for a citizen’s initiative have essentially remained the same with some changes along the way. To place an initiative on today’s ballot, a number of steps are needed as follows:
- Draft the language of the proposal.
- Submit the proposal to the Legislative Council staff so that a review and comment meeting may be scheduled within 14 days. The purpose of the review is to ensure that the measure accomplishes the proponents’ intent. A tracking number is assigned to the proposal.
- Proponents then have the opportunity to amend the proposal based on some or all of the comments made by the Legislative Council staff and the office of Legislative Legal Services.
- If substantial amendments are made to the initiative beyond the comments from the review, proponents must submit a new draft and have a new hearing scheduled.
- After review and comment and any amendments are completed, the proponents submit the initiative to the Secretary of State’s office.
- A hearing is scheduled before the Title Board which is made up of designated officials from Legislative Council, the Attorney General’s office and the Secretary of State. The purpose of the Title Board is to write the Ballot Title for the proposed initiative that contains the major provisions of the proposal. This text is what voters will see on their ballot.
- Colorado law states that the ballot title:
- Must be brief,
- Cannot conflict with another ballot title selected for a similar petition for the same election,
- Must be in the form of a question that can be answered
- “yes” in favor of the proposal, or
- “no” to vote against the proposal,
- Must clearly state the principal provisions of the initiative.
- The proposal must be single subject. The text of the measure must contain one subject with one distinct purpose.
- Petition format must be prepared and submitted to the Secretary of State for approval.
- Petitions may be circulated to gather signatures after the petition format has been approved.
- The number of valid signatures of registered voters on the petition must equal at least 5% of the votes cast for Secretary of State in the most recent election. (98,492 in 2015-2018).
- The signed petitions must be filed with the Secretary of State within six months of the date of the final language set by the Title Board OR no later than 3 months before the General Election.
- Within 30 days of the signed petitions being turned in, the Secretary of State must announce whether the valid number of signatures was submitted.
- The campaign begins if the signature requirement is met.
- The voters make the final decision with their vote.