2023 Election, Elections, Local, Natalie Menten, TABOR, Taxes, Uncategorized

Menten: How to weigh in on local TABOR measures for the 2023 ballot

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 ballot issue notice includes content and details about upcoming local ballot measures that increase taxes, add debt, or suspend TABOR revenue limits. It includes a section where registered voters 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, submitting comments in the TABOR notice costs almost nothing and takes relatively little time and energy.

What follows is an explanation of how to participate in the local ballot issue FOR or AGAINST comment process. As in so much of government bureaucracy, instructions must be followed with no room for alteration.  The deadline for this year is Friday, September 23 no later than noon 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.

In past years, I’ve recommended that taxpayer advocates email a public information request under the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) to their 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.

For example, I have already made such a request to Jefferson County, where I live, and it turns out there will at least 14 local TABOR questions throughout the county on this year’s ballot.

Understanding what’s on the ballot, getting the DEO’s info, and meeting the 2023 deadline of Friday, September 22 by noon is a tight timeline. I know there was success getting this message out in earlier years because taxpayer advocates reached  out for assistance and submitted comments. But, there were far too many issues that voters weren’t aware of until the deadline for submission had passed and the TABOR notice said “No statements submitted by deadline.”

Preparing your FOR or AGAINST comments

Get the government resolution. Since you likely have the DEO’s email you can start by asking them for the resolution. You can also go to 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. The resolution would likely have been passed in August or September 2022.

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 a say over 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. Your argument must be not one word more than 500 words. 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 22, 2023. (the Friday before the 45th day before the election) – Note that some governments are closed on Fridays but that shouldn’t change the statutory deadline. Email the DEO if you want to be safe and get a documented response.
–  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.
– If you hand-deliver the comments, be sure and 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 25, 2023)

What if multiple registered voters 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 voters 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 has been an activist in Jefferson County for over 20 years focusing on state and local public policy.  She is a former elected RTD boardmember and sits on the board of directors for the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights Foundation. Contact Natalie at NMLakewood@gmail.com.


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