2024 Election, Elections, Sherrie Peif

One proposed ballot measure expands ranked choice voting, another outlaws the practice

DENVER — Voters may get the chance this fall to weigh in on a pair of conflicting ballot measures, with one being a constitutional amendment to bar use of “ranked choice voting” (RCV) in Colorado, and the other a state statute further expanding use of the controversial voting system.

Initiative #197 “Elections to Fill Vacancies in the General Assembly,” as it is currently known, has had its title set and is now in the approval phase, with supporters able to hit the streets gathering signatures as soon as petitions are okayed by the secretary of state.

The ballot measure, being pushed by Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) For Colorado, would require vacancies in the Colorado legislature be filled via an election using RCV, rather than the current vacancy committee appointment process.

However, those opposed to RCV have their own measure they want to put before the voters. Initiative #201 “Prohibit Ranked Choice Voting” would outright ban the use of RCV in any Colorado election, from non-partisan municipal races to the governor’s office.

Backers of that initiative have had a petition approved for circulation, though no paid signature gathering firms have as of yet registered to circulate the measure.

Another attempt at an RCV-related ballot initiative had all 17 of its versions denied title setting over single-subject issues. That effort, backed by former DaVita CEO Kent Thiry, would have fully opened Colorado’s primaries and brought use of RCV to all general elections.

Colorado’s primaries are currently “semi-open,” meaning registered Democrats and Republicans can only vote in the primary for the party they are registered under, while unaffiliated voters can choose which primary to vote in without registering with a party.

An open primary system places all the candidates for office on one ballot, regardless of political affiliation.

Changing how vacancies are filled

According to an email to supporters sent out last week last week from Ranked Choice Voting for Colorado, Initiative 197 was created because vacancy appointments need to be filled by more than just “party insiders.”

The vacancy appointment process has come under much criticism lately.

According to a Colorado Politics story from February of this year, 24 out of the current 28 state lawmakers who were appointed to their seats because of a vacancy were picked — on average — by fewer than 40 political insiders to represent approximate 89,000 residents in a House district or the approximate 165,000 residents in a Senate district.

The appointments go back to 2010, Colorado Politics reported.

The main concern about the current system is that legislators are put in seats via a handful of party insiders. They then run for re-election as an incumbent, giving them a big boost in support without ever facing the voters for the first term.

The Colorado Politics story reported that Colorado is one of only five states that allow the appointment process as it is currently used, and of the appointed seats:

  • Eight came from the 2022 election and into the 2023 session.
  • Seven of the eight lawmakers who gained their seats through vacancies since the 2022 election have yet to face voters.
  • Eighteen of the 29 lawmakers have gained their “elected” seat through vacancy in the last decade.

RCV is a system of voting in which candidates for an office are “ranked” by voters in order of preference. A candidate needs 50 percent or more “first-choice” votes to win. After voting closes, and it is determined how many first-choice votes each candidate receives, if no one gets 50 percent or more, the counting moves to round two for a runoff. The candidate with the least votes drops off, and the “second-choice” vote on the ballots that supported the losing candidate are included in the first-place vote count.

That process continues until one candidate has more than 50 percent of the vote and is declared the winner.

“Currently, almost 25 percent of the seats in Colorado’s state legislature were filled by vacancy committees,” the email from RCV read in part. “What makes this initiative an easy decision for people is that any kind of election gives more voice to voters than a committee of party volunteers.”

Several municipalities in Colorado already use RCV at the local level, including Boulder, several mountain towns and Fort Collins, which just approved its use in the 2022 election. Fort Collins will begin implementing RCV in 2025.

Complete Colorado could not find any issue committees registered as of the publication of this story other than one registered back in 2016 by Ranked Choice Voting for Colorado. It has no money and has not filed a campaign finance report.

A long path the ballot

The successful passage of 197 requires collection of just under 125,000 valid signatures from registered voters and  then approval at the November statewide ballot by 50 percent, plus one vote.

Should the measure make it on the ballot and pass, it will become a new state statute, and thus can be adjusted and changed, or even repealed by lawmakers, as with any other state law. they have done in the past when voters made decisions they disproved of. In this case, lawmakers could pass new laws that essentially repeal the will of the voters.

However, 201 is proposed as as an amendment to the state Constitution. In addition to the 125,000 signatures, at least 2 percent of the signatures must come from each of Colorado’s 35 Senate districts, and if it makes the ballot, it must receive supermajority voter approval–55 percent, plus one vote–to pass in November.

So regardless of both passing, 197 will not become law because 201 would override it as a constitutional law.

RCV for Colorado was clear in its email that this isn’t the last Colorado voters will see of ranked choice voting. In fact, they openly admit this is just the beginning, and that 197 is being proposed to get voters used to using RCV.

“It will give more people experience with RCV before it is used on a larger scale,” the email read. “RCV for Colorado will help voters, county party leaders, and clerks understand what this RCV measure will mean for them in these statewide special elections.”

Complete Colorado will continue to follow the process of the two initiatives.


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