DENVER — One day after Complete Colorado broke the news that at least one lawsuit was being filed against Gov. Jared Polis for recent executive orders relaxing election laws for petitioning onto the November 2020 ballot, a second suit has been filed over the same order.
However, the two filings come from vastly different philosophical backgrounds and are for very different reasons, however.
Attorneys on behalf of Dan Ritchie and Colorado Concern filed the suit in Denver District Court on Monday. Ritchie has been one of Polis’s biggest champions and was both a donor and advocate for last year’s failed Proposition CC, an effort to permanently eliminate the refunding of over-collected tax revenue under Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR).
Colorado Concern describes itself as an “exclusive alliance of top executives with a common interest in enhancing and protecting the Centennial State’s business climate.”
“The Governor has led our state admirably through these dark and difficult days, and so many of us have stood with him throughout,” Ritchie said through a news release. “But Governor Polis’ Friday evening executive order, which would remove vital safeguards that go to the very heart of the integrity in the initiative process, reaches beyond the power given to the Governor by the people, and has to be challenged.”
On Friday, Polis issued an executive order that suspends certain requirements for collecting and filing signatures for ballot issues. It allows signatures to be collected online and by email. It also allows petitions to be notarized without the signer present.
“A governor does not have the power to unilaterally throw out Colorado’s signature gathering process,” said Richie’s attorney, Chris Murray, of Denver-based Browstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. “Colorado’s constitution guarantees that signatures will be gathered transparently in front of a third-party. Governor Polis’ executive order undermines the integrity of the in-person process that Coloradoans have long demanded.”
Ritchie is not alone in his frustration. On Sunday, Suzanne Staiert of the Denver-based firm Maven Law Group, confirmed her office was preparing suit on behalf of the Initiative 120 campaign, which is gathering signatures to put a late-term abortion ban on the ballot.
The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce (DMCC) was also critical of the governor. Kelly Brough, President and CEO of the DMCC told Complete Colorado they sent a letter to the governor long before he signed the orders sharing their concerns and asking that he reconsider. DMCC is also considering its next move.
“We have been working with a diverse group of organizations throughout the state that are very concerned about the Governor’s executive order,” Brough said. “We are working with our coalition now to determine how we move forward, but our firm belief is that no individual or office can violate the law simply because it’s more convenient or easier than following it.”
The letter is signed by DMCC, the Colorado Association of Home Builders, the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Action 22, the Colorado Association of Mechanical and Plumbing Contractors, the Colorado Chamber of Commerce, the American Petroleum Institute of Colorado, the Colorado Association of Realtors, the Colorado Competitive Council, the Aurora Chamber of Commerce, the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association, Colorado Concern, Club 20, the Colorado Business Roundtable and Colorado Corn.
In the letter dated April 28, they say the current process outlined in Colorado’s Constitution was set in place by the people and any changes should only be made by the people.
“Electronic signature gathering would also be more susceptible to voter fraud, jeopardizing our state’s hard earned and well-managed election process,” the letter reads in part. “… Electronic signature gathering would threaten that integrity and likely cast doubt on our elections generally. Voters must be confident that any issue or candidate who earns a place on the ballot earned that opportunity fairly.”
The Polis order would make it simpler to put two initiatives making their way through the process on the ballot, both of which would negatively impact those represented by Colorado Concern and the DMCC in a time when many small businesses are struggling to stay open already amid Polis’ shutdown orders.
One would require businesses to pay for family medical leave for their employees and another would change Colorado’s income tax rate from a flat tax to a progressive tax rate.
Ritchie’s complaint says the “Governor lacks the power to alter Colorado’s statewide signature gathering process, even in a time of emergency and that no governor can change what’s required by the state constitution.”
The Initiative 120 group’s lawsuit, on the other hand, is asking a federal court to include them in the temporary changes, as Polis specifically disallowed any group that is already in the cure process, such as the late-term abortion ban measure, under the emergency order.
“Leaders all across Colorado have expressed their view to the Governor that this action is out of line with our state’s constitutional protections around the signature gathering process, and that changes like these simply cannot be made unilaterally by the Governor. We believe it is vital to speak up in defense of our constitutional system of checks and balances,” said Mike Kopp, CEO of Colorado Concern in the release. “The emergency powers granted to the Governor are extensive, but they do not give him the authority to wipe away critical elections safeguards in our state constitution and statute.”