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Amendments Snuck Into Co. Elections Bill to Thwart the Will of Voters

Colorado
Created: 03 June, 2024
Updated: 06 June, 2024
5 min read

Photo by Colin Lloyd on Unsplash

 

A bill is currently on Colorado Gov. Jared Polis’ desk that if signed into law would place barriers on the will of the people being carried out should they approve nonpartisan primaries and a ranked voting method in November. 

Colorado Voters First, which is being spearheaded by former DaVita CEO and election reformer Kent Thiry, has two ballot measures to put on the 2024 ballot, both of which are being reviewed by the Colorado Supreme Court. 

The proposals, currently filed as No. 188 and No. 310, would implement a nonpartisan, top-four primary with ranked choice voting (RCV) in the general election. The group has yet to decide which one they will go with for the ballot. 

[Update: The Colorado Supreme Court ruled on May 30 that the reform proposal could appear on the November ballot if Colorado Voters First gathers enough signatures.]

Thiry has used his own resources to push nonpartisan election reforms in Colorado for years, including opening the state’s partisan primaries and pushing anti-gerrymandering reform.

Colorado Voters First offers a reform combo that has gained momentum since Alaska voters approved a similar system in 2020 and used it for the first time in 2022.

Now, voters in Montana, Idaho, and Colorado could soon bring these election changes to their state, and Nevada voters are one election away from implementing a Final Five system, which advances 5 candidates from a nonpartisan primary. 

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Under a nonpartisan primary system (or a unified primary system), all voters and candidates, regardless of party or lack thereof, participate on a single ballot and the top vote-getters move on to the general election.

It eliminates party ballots and treats all voters equally. 

The number of candidates that advance depends on the system. In Washington and California, which laid the foundation for nonpartisan primary reform, it's the top two candidates. However, the author of California’s model says the time is right to “reform the reform” to advance more candidates. 

Voters have made it clear across the country that they want to change the way they elect public officials because they understand that the current system is the reason there is no competition, which means there is no choice, which creates a political environment with zero accountability.

However, while Colorado voters may choose to take the fate of state elections into their own hands – a bill that passed the legislature in May will make it harder for them to do it.

Senate Bill 24-210 was offered up as a way to update and improve current election systems and offer additional protections to election workers who have faced an increasing number of threats since 2020.

However, amendments were added to it in the last minute with zero debate and passed within a minute of their introduction that would force a delay on election reform implementation should voters approve the “Unified Primary Ballot”  and RCV.

The Colorado Sun summed up the amendments in a recent article:

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“The provisions would require a dozen Colorado municipalities in counties of a certain size and with a specific demographic makeup to conduct ranked choice elections before a ranked choice election could be used in a race for state or federal office. Additionally, Colorado could not move to the new primary system proposed by Colorado Voters First until that requirement has been met.

Finally, the amendment would require the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office to produce a report on how ranked choice voting went in the municipalities and present its findings to the legislature.”

A dozen cities would first have to approve the use of RCV, but these cities have to meet certain demographic criteria, then they have to use RCV, and then the state has to produce a report on the voting method. 

And though the Unified Primary and RCV are two different reform types, Senate Bill 24-210 would make it impossible to have the former without first meeting the RCV stipulations – meaning it may be several years before the reforms are allowed to be used. 

Former Colorado House Speaker Terrance Carroll said in a statement to the press that the way the amendments passed represented “a gross abuse of power and an assault on the citizens' initiative process.”

“Most cynically, this midnight hour hijacking of the legislative process was done under the ruse of protecting Black and Brown voters but in reality its sole purpose was the furtherance of self-serving partisan goals,” he added.

He further asserts that the courts would not allow such an “assault on the initiative process to stand, and the governor shouldn’t allow it either.”

The amendment’s author, Denver Democratic Rep. Emily Sirota, said the purpose was to “have a good amount of data to analyze to ensure we’re not undermining Coloradans’ confidence in our elections and that voters understand their ballots.” 

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A few cities in Colorado have already adopted and use ranked choice voting (RCV), including Boulder, Fort Collins, and Telluride. There are also dozens of cities of all sizes and demographic makeups across the US that use RCV in their elections.

Maine and Alaska implemented RCV without such cumbersome barriers with little issue from the start. As far as analysis goes, there is no shortage of research and reports on the impact RCV has had on a variety of groups and communities.  

Amber McReynolds, who once ran elections in the city and county of Denver, called the amendments added by Sirota “last-minute antics” that “are what voters hate about politics.”

“Communities across Colorado have already approved and used ranked-choice voting in elections, and our fantastic clerks have systems in place to run and audit those contests,” she said.

Sirota incorporated tactics not dissimilar to those used by Missouri Republicans, who attached an RCV ban to a ballot initiative that would redundantly make it illegal for noncitizens to vote.

She added the amendments to a bill that would be hard for the governor to veto because of other provisions that most county clerks say are needed – just like it would be hard for voters to say no to an initiative that says noncitizens should not vote in elections. 

The difference is voters will actually have a say in Missouri, even as state lawmakers try to deceive them. The public had zero input and will have no say in what lawmakers did with Senate Bill 24-210.

Colorado Voters First has called on Gov. Polis to veto the bill. The group is still in the signature gathering process for its reforms. It has to collect approximately 125,000 signatures by August 5 to make it on the ballot. 

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