Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Colorado Supreme Court
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On March 10, 2020, Colorado Governor Jared Polis declared a disaster emergency pursuant to the Colorado Disaster Emergency Act as a result of the COVID-19 global pandemic. Since that time, the Governor relied on his authority under the Act to issue a wide range of executive orders suspending certain statutes, rules, and regulations in an effort to prevent further escalation of the pandemic and mitigate its effects. Among these was Executive Order D 2020 065 (“EO 65”), which (1) suspended the operation of certain statutes governing the ballot initiative process that require signature collection to take place in person; and (2) authorized the Secretary of State to create temporary rules to permit signature gathering by mail and email. Petitioners filed this lawsuit against Governor Polis and Secretary of State Jena Griswold, seeking a preliminary injunction against enforcement of EO65 and a declaratory judgment finding the Order unconstitutional under the Colorado Constitution and unauthorized under the Colorado Disaster Emergency Act. After ordering expedited briefing, the district court held a remote hearing via WebEx on May 22. In its May 27 Order, the district court concluded that (1) petitioners had not established the necessary factors outlined in Rathke v. MacFarlane, 648 P.2d 648 (Colo. 1982), to obtain a preliminary injunction; and (2) petitioners had not established an entitlement to declaratory relief under C.R.C.P. 57. The court also found that the petitioners’ claims against the Secretary were not ripe because she had not yet promulgated the temporary rules that EO 65 had authorized. The Colorado Supreme Court determined Article V, section 1(6) of the Colorado Constitution required ballot initiative petitions be signed in the presence of the petition circulator. "That requirement cannot be suspended by executive order, even during a pandemic." Judgment was therefore reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Ritchie v. Polis" on Justia Law

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Proponents-respondents Monica Vondruska and Jon Caldara submitted proposed Initiative #293 to the Title Board for the setting of a title and submission clause. Initiative #293 proposed to add section 22 to article X of the Colorado Constitution and to amend certain statutory provisions in Titles 24 and 39 of the Colorado Revised Statutes in order to create a new preschool program. The measure implements the new preschool program, in part, by: (1) redirecting certain state cigarette and tobacco tax revenue away from local governments that ban selling tobacco or nicotine products and to the new preschool program and (2) reallocating a portion of the cigarette and tobacco taxes collected under article X, section 21 of the Colorado Constitution that are currently allocated to several health-related programs (Initiative #315 differed from Initiative #293 to the extent that Initiative #315 also added a ten percent sales tax on tobacco-derived nicotine vapor products). Petitioner Anna Jo Haynes then filed a motion for rehearing, asserting that the title did not satisfy either the single subject or clear title requirement. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded that the title that the Title Board set for Initiative #293 presented a single subject, namely, the creation and administration of a Colorado preschool program funded by reallocating existing taxes on, and other revenues derived from, tobacco and nicotine products. Furthermore, the Court concluded the title satisfied the clear title requirement because it described Initiative #293’s central features succinctly, accurately, and fairly and in a manner that will not mislead voters. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the Title Board’s actions in setting the title for Initiative #293. View "In re Title, Ballot Title & Submission Clause for 2019 (Initiative 293)" on Justia Law

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Proponents-respondents Monica Vondruska and Jon Caldara submitted proposed Initiative #315 to the Title Board for the setting of a title and submission clause. Initiative #315 proposed to add section 22 to article X of the Colorado Constitution and to amend certain statutory provisions in Titles 24 and 39 of the Colorado Revised Statutes in order to create a new preschool program. This program would be created by reallocating revenue generated by existing state taxes on tobacco products and tobacco litigation settlements and by levying a new sales tax on tobacco-derived nicotine vapor products. Petitioner Anna Jo Haynes then filed a motion for rehearing, asserting that the title did not satisfy either the single subject or clear title requirement. Upon review, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded that the title that the Title Board set for Initiative #315 presented a single subject, namely, the creation and administration of a Colorado preschool program funded by state taxes on nicotine and tobacco products. Furthermore, the Court concluded the title satisfied the clear title requirement because it described Initiative #315’s central features succinctly, accurately, and fairly and in a manner that will not mislead voters. View "In re Title, Ballot Title & Submission Clause for 2019 (Initiative 315)" on Justia Law

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Michelle Ferrigno Warren, a candidate for the United States Senate, was unable to collect the statutorily required 1,500 signatures in six of the seven required congressional districts. Ferrigno Warren argued that her name should have nevertheless been placed on the ballot because, under the "unprecedented circumstances" presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, her efforts demonstrated “substantial compliance” with the Election Code’s requirements. The Secretary of State disagreed, arguing that “substantial compliance” should be determined by the application of a mathematical formula that discounts the signature requirement by the number of days signature collection was impeded by the pandemic. While the Colorado Supreme Court recognized the uniqueness of the current circumstances, it concluded nontheless that the legislature alone had the authority to change the minimum signature requirements set out in the Election Code. Because Ferrigno Warren did not meet the threshold signature requirement, the Secretary properly declined to place her on the ballot. View "Griswold v. Ferrigno Warren" on Justia Law

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In April 2019, Monica Colbert and Juliet Sebold sought to have titles set for eight ballot initiatives. Each of the proposed initiatives was designed to create an “Expanded Learning Opportunities Program” for Colorado children, but each included a different funding mechanism. The Title Board held a hearing on the eight initiatives; it declined to set titles for two, Initiatives #74 and #75, after concluding that both proposed initiatives contained multiple subjects in violation of the Colorado Constitution. The Colorado Supreme Court was asked, in its original jurisdiction, whether a statement in section 1-40-107(1)(c), C.R.S. (2019), that “[t]he decision of the title board on any motion for rehearing shall be final, except as provided in subsection (2) of this section, and no further motion for rehearing may be filed or considered by the title board” – meant what it said. The Court responded, “yes”: Section 1-40-107 contemplated only a single Title Board rehearing on a proposed initiative title. The Court therefore affirmed the decision of the Title Board declining to consider a motion for a second rehearing on Proposed Initiative 2019–2020 #74 and Proposed Initiative 2019–2020 #75. View "In re Ballot Title #74, & No." on Justia Law

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The Colorado Title Board set a title for Proposed Ballot Initiative 2019–2020 #3 (“Proposed Initiative”) that reads, in pertinent part, “An amendment to the Colorado constitution concerning the repeal of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), Article X, Section 20 of the Colorado constitution.” The Board also ultimately adopted an abstract that states, regarding the economic impact of the Proposed Initiative. A challenge to the Proposed Initiative was presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review, and after such, the Court concluded the title and abstract were clear and not misleading, and that the phrase “Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights,” as used in the title, was not an impermissible catch phrase. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the decision of the Title Board. View "In re Proposed Ballot Initiative 2019" on Justia Law

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Petitioners Carol Hedges and Steve Briggs were the designated representatives of the proponents of proposed Initiative 2019–2020 #3 (“Initiative #3”), which, if enacted, would repeal in its entirety the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, section 20 of article X of the Colorado Constitution (“TABOR”). The Title Board declined to set a title for this initiative because it concluded that the initiative did not constitute a single subject as required by the Colorado Constitution. Petitioners petitioned the Colorado Supreme Court for review. The Supreme Court concluded the title constituted a single subject, and returned Initiative #3 to the Title Board for the purpose of setting a title, ballot title and submission clause. View "In re Ballot Title #3" on Justia Law

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The Colorado Supreme Court ruled Representative Doug Lamborn could not appear on the primary ballot in his district because of a problem with his ballot petitions. The Court ruled a petition circulator working for Lamborn’s campaign did not live in the state at the time, rendering the signatures he gathered invalid and moving Lamborn below the threshold for ballot access in his district. The Supreme Court concluded the district erred when it focused on the challenged circulator’s subjective intent to move back to Colorado, rather than the test set forth in section 1-2-102, C.R.S. (2017) when determining the circulator’s residency. In applying the correct test to the essentially undisputed facts here, the Court reversed the district court’s ruling. Furthermore, the Supreme Court held the Colorado Secretary of State could not certify Representative Lamborn to the 2018 primary ballot for Colorado’s Fifth Congressional District. View "Kuhn v. Williams" on Justia Law

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Alliance for a Safe and Independent Woodmen Hills bought ads and social-media coverage in an election. Campaign Integrity Watchdog filed a complaint with the Colorado Secretary of State against Alliance, alleging that Alliance failed to comply with Colorado’s campaign-finance laws requiring political committees to report contributions and expenditures. An Administrative Law Judge, or ALJ, ultimately ordered Alliance to pay fines and register as a political committee. Alliance appealed the campaign-finance decision and defended itself in a related defamation suit, racking up hundreds of dollars in court costs and thousands in legal fees. Alliance didn’t report those legal expenses. Watchdog filed another campaign-finance complaint; the ALJ concluded that the legal expenses were not reportable as expenditures but were reportable as contributions. Nonetheless, it ruled that the contribution-reporting requirement was unconstitutional as applied to Alliance for its post-election legal expenses. Watchdog appealed the ALJ’s determinations regarding the reporting requirements, and the court of appeals asked the Colorado Supreme Court to take the appeal directly under C.A.R. 50. After its review, the Supreme Court affirmed the ALJ’s decision that the legal expenses were not expenditures but were contributions under Colorado law. However, the Court reversed the ALJ’s determination that the reporting requirement was unconstitutional as applied to Alliance for its legal expenses: “The Supreme Court of the United States has consistently upheld disclosure and reporting requirements for political committees that exist primarily to influence elections. It makes no difference here that the contributions were not used to directly influence an election - any contribution to a political committee that has the major purpose of influencing an election is deemed to be campaign related and thus justifies the burden of disclosure and reporting.” Accordingly, the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed the ALJ’s decision in part and reversed in part. View "Campaign Integrity Watchdog v. Alliance for a Safe and Independent" on Justia Law

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Jonathan Anderson, a lawyer, filed a termination report for Coloradans for a Better Future without requiring payment for his legal work, and “Better Future” didn’t report his service as a contribution. Campaign Integrity Watchdog complained to Colorado’s Secretary of State that Better Future should have done so. An Administrative Law Judge, or ALJ, dismissed Watchdog’s complaint on the merits. The court of appeals reversed in part, holding that Anderson’s service counted as a “contribution” to Better Future as the term was defined in section 1-45-103(6), C.R.S. (2017), of the Fair Campaign Practices Act (“FCPA”). The court reasoned that if the service was donated, it was a “gift” under section 1-45-103(6)(c)(I). If it was billed but not paid, it was an undercompensated service under section 1-45-103(6)(b). Either way, the service constituted a reportable contribution under the FCPA. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded the uncompensated legal services at issue here were not “contributions” to a political organization under Colorado’s campaign-finance laws. Accordingly, the court of appeals erred in holding that Better Future was required to report Anderson’s donated legal services. View "Coloradans for a Better Future v. Campaign Integrity Watchdog" on Justia Law