2024 Leg Session, Elections, Featured, Politics, Ranked Choice Voting, Sherrie Peif

Initiatives to open primaries, bring ranked choice voting challenged in Colorado Supreme Court

DENVER — While two ballot initiatives dealing with Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) are already either gathering signatures or in the petition approval phase with the secretary of state, two more citizen-initiated measures that would completely upend Colorado elections are going through an appeals process with the Colorado Supreme Court.

Ballot initiatives 188 and 310 “Concerning the Conduct of Elections,” would drastically change the way primary elections are held in Colorado.

Only one of the two initiatives would actually go to voters, as they are near mirror images of each other, but either one would make Colorado’s primaries fully open and mandate use of RCV to conduct the elections.

According to the final approved text for 310, the petitioners say that “the people of the state of Colorado establish that all voters have the right to:”

  • Participate in an all-candidate primary election featuring all candidates for those state and federal offices, with the final four candidates advancing to the general elections
  • Vote for any candidate they prefer, regardless of political affiliation or non-affiliation
  • Participate in general elections where candidates are elected by a majority of votes.

“This equal access provides voters more choices, generates more competitive candidates for elective office, promotes more meaningful voter participation, and holds elected officials more accountable,” the initiative says.

Although Jason Bertolacci and Owen Alexander Clough, both attorneys for Denver-based Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, LLP, are listed as the representatives on the initiatives, the idea and money supporting the effort comes from former DaVita CEO Kent Thiry, who has spent millions of dollars on a variety of ballot measures over the years, including the opening up of primary elections to unaffiliated voters and changing Colorado’s redistricting process.

Changing how elections work

If passed, voters would get one ballot for a primary race that would include the names of all candidates running for that office, despite party affiliation. Races covered under that rule include US Senate, US House of Representatives, state-wide office holders, and state senators and representatives.

Voters then select one person of their choice for the office. The top four vote getters (or all candidates in the case there are four or fewer candidates total) then move on to the general election, regardless of party. Hypothetically, all four could come from the same party. If two candidates tie, who moves on to the general election will be determined by lot.

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.

“This doesn’t mean there won’t still be Republicans and Democrats. It means there will be openings for unaffiliated and third-party candidates to win seats usually left only for the two major parties,” wrote Independence Institute* President Jon Caldara in an opinion piece about the idea, adding Thiry’s idea is “half right.”

Caldara calls it a “jungle primary,” which allows an unlimited number of candidates on a single primary ballot, regardless of party affiliation.

That’s just the first half of what the initiatives do. The second half would completely replace the general election with RCV.

“I think Colorado is ready for the first part but should and will reject the second part,” Caldara continued.

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.

High court challenge

The successful passage of which ever version of the measure petitioners choose requires the collection of just under 125,000 valid signatures from registered voters before early August, and then approval from voters on the November statewide ballot by 50 percent, plus one vote.

Should one of the measures 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.

But it must make it through Colorado’s high court first. Denver resident Mark Chilson (a registered Republican) has filed an appeal through his attorney, former Secretary of State Scott Gessler.

Chilson could not be reached for comment, but argues in his filing that after the measures were initially rejected by the state’s Title Board for having more than one subject, proponents refiled with additional changes, against state law.

“The standard is a simple one: The revisions may not ‘involve more’ than the ‘elimination of provisions’ to achieve a single subject,” the filing reads. “Resubmitted Proposal 188 fails this test, because in their resubmission the Proponents removed language that involved far more than the elimination of provisions necessary to achieve a single subject.”

The request for review was filed on April 25. It is unclear when, if at all it will be heard as the state state supreme court is wrapping up for the year.

A spokesperson for Colorado Voters First, which is pushing the initiatives, claims this this is nothing more than stall tactics to shorten the time allowed to gather signatures in time to place it on the ballot.

“Party insiders have tried, and failed, to derail our initiatives at every turn, and have thrown a final Hail Mary by challenging 188 and 310 to the Supreme Court,” a statement sent to Complete Colorado said. “We are confident the Title Board’s decisions will be upheld and plan to begin circulating petitions for one of those initiatives soon.”

An issue committee registered with the Secretary of State’s Office in February has raised more than $500,000 ($250,000 of which came from Thiry and another $250,000 from Unite America PAC, a national organization whose board includes Thiry, along with former Republican Florida Congressman Carlos Curbelo and Democrat Kathryn Murdoch, among others. The committee has already spent just more than $400,000, mostly on consulting and other professional services.

* Complete Colorado is published by the Independence Institute.


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