2021 Election, 2022 Election, Elections, TABOR, Taxes

Menten: How to weigh in on local TABOR ballot measures

One great, though lesser-known benefit provided in the Colorado Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) is the local ballot issue notice. This guide is sent by mail at least 30-days before the election to all households with one or more registered voters.

The TABOR ballot issue notice includes content and details about upcoming local ballot measures which increase taxes, add debt, or suspend government revenue limits. It includes a section where registered electors have the opportunity to submit FOR or AGAINST comments, up to 500 words each.

You should know that there are two types of TABOR ballot issue notices. One notice is for the statewide elections and commonly referred to as the “Blue Book.” The notice discussed here is for elections held by local governments such as a city, town, school district, or special taxing district. You could potentially get more than one of these notices in the mail.

Several years back, it was discovered that out that of some 300 local tax issues throughout the state during a ballot year, only 15 had the taxpayer’s voice printed in a ballot issue notice.  That’s only 5 percent!  You can make a big difference and amplify your voice by being an author of the next ballot issue notice where you live.  Considering that you reach thousands of voters, being able to submit comments in the TABOR notice costs almost nothing and takes relatively little time & energy.

The remainder of this article informs you how to participate in the local ballot issue FOR or AGAINST comment process. This is because 2021 is an odd-year election in which it’s more common to see municipalities, school districts, or special districts run ballot issues that pertain to the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

As in so much of government bureaucracy, instructions must be followed with no room for alteration.  There’s a strict deadline that you must meet to have your comments included in the local TABOR notice.

What is going to be on my ballot?

You might not yet be aware of what’s going to appear on your ballot, but you need to figure this out to meet the deadlines for your submission.

One of the easiest ways to find out what will be on the ballot is to email a public information request under the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) to your county election department and ask them for a list of all political districts (local governments) that have reserved a space on the ballot for a TABOR issue. In addition, ask the election department to inform you of who is the Designated Election Official (DEO) for each of those districts and their contact information.

Per state law, a local government must notify the county election department 100 days in advance of the election that it plans to participate in the coordinated election. Usually the local government will inform the county election department whether it’s a TABOR issue or not. Since the 2021 election is November 2nd, the political subdivisions had to submit their notice to the county by July 23rd.

It’s possible to end up with a list from your county election department with numerous ballot issues being proposed by local governments  throughout your county, but there’s a good chance that you won’t actually live within some of these governments. Remember, you are able to submit comments only if you live within the local government bringing the ballot issue, but that doesn’t stop you from alerting friends or family who do reside in other governments.

Preparing your FOR or AGAINST comments

With your list of proposed TABOR ballot measures and the contact information for the Designated Election Officials, it’s time to find out about the issue so you can properly prepare your comments. The research may be easy or it may take some work. Start by finding the local government’s website and research the section where the elected officials conduct business, such as passing a resolution to put the measure on the ballot. If you can’t find these documents, contact the DEO or reach out to your elected representative (town trustee, councilman, school board director, etc.) by phone or email and request the document that contains the proposed ballot measure language and related financial impact documentation.

If you see proposed ballot language similar to “…shall the _(district)___ be permitted to collect and spend the revenues from such increase without regard to the limitations of Article X, Section 20 of the Colorado Constitution,” this means the local government is attempting to eliminate TABOR revenue caps. This is contrary to the intent of TABOR and worthwhile to include in your comments that voters would forever give up their right to have government revenue limits.

Text formatting is limited but you can emphasize wording with capital letters. Italics and bullet-points may be printed, be creative and use dashes instead of the traditional bullet-point or you can ask the DEO what formatting is accepted. Sending your comments in a Word document (versus PDF) may assist the DEO with getting the text as you have it laid out.

Write your best argument(s) that back up your position on the ballot issue.  The TABOR Committee would be glad to review it for you, you can contact me directly at Coloradoengaged at gmail.com.  Your argument must be not one word more than 500 words and sometimes shorter, tightly written submissions are more likely to be read.

My comments are ready. What else do I need to include?

Make sure to read these instructions closely. More than a few comments have been denied because they didn’t follow the state law, which clearly states:

(2) All comments filed in writing will be received and kept on file with the designated election official for the political subdivision submitting to its eligible electors the ballot issue to which the comments pertain. However, only those comments that are filed by persons eligible to vote in the political subdivision submitting the ballot issue to its electors must be summarized in the ballot issue notice (emphasis added). The filed comments shall be retained by the designated election official as election records.

(3) To be summarized in the ballot issue notice, the comments shall address a specific ballot issue and shall include a signature and an address where the signor is registered to vote and shall be filed with the designated election official for the political subdivision and not the county clerk and recorder of the county in which the political subdivision is located unless the issue is a county issue for which the county clerk and recorder is the designated election official (emphasis added).

Key points to remember

–  You must live in the political subdivision to have your comments accepted.
–  Each For or Against section includes maximum 500-words. See below for cautionary details.
–  Don’t include names of persons or private groups, nor any endorsements of or resolutions against the proposal.
–  Sign your submission and you must include your voter registration address (your name/address won’t appear in the voter guide).
–  Submit your comments no later than 12 pm on September 17, 2021. (the Friday before the 45th day before the election)
–  File your comments with the Designated Election Official (DEO).
–  Email or hand-deliver your comments before the 12:00 PM deadline. Confirm with the DEO that they received your submission and that no problem exists.
– It is best to hand-deliver the comments, so that you can request that the DEO time-stamp it and give you a copy.
– Ask the DEO to provide you with copies of any other comments that have been submitted either FOR or AGAINST, get the name and address of the person who submitted those comments. You want to ensure the opposing side followed the rules. If there is any dispute, you need to act quickly because the DEO by law has to turn in the comments to the county election department no later than 43 days before the election (Monday, September 20, 2021)

What if multiple registered electors submit comments and we have the same position?

The Designated Election Official (DEO) is required to compile each For or Against section up to 500-words. If multiple registered electors submit comments and those submissions total more than 500-words, the DEO can decide which text to include so that the content doesn’t exceed the limit. If you know of others in the district who share your position, you should work together to craft a submission that fits within the limit.

Natalie Menten is a long time political activist from Lakewood, and a member of the TABOR Foundation’s board of directors.  A version of this article originally appeared in the Foundation’s blog.

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