Fighting a Challenge to Direct Democracy
Yesterday, Colorado Common Cause filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiff in Semple et al v. Williams. This lawsuit challenges Amendment 71 – which significantly dilutes the power of Colorado voters to amend our state constitution.
Coloradans have a valuable political tool that many Americans do not possess: the ability to amend our state constitution through the ballot initiative process.
This method of direct democracy allows Coloradans to act when elected officials refuse to do so. In the past, Colorado voters successfully passed amendments to the constitution concerning term limits for elected officials, public school funding, marijuana legalization, and other issues ignored by state representatives.
Amendment 71 – which was enacted in 2016 – significantly weakens this power. The amendment requires proponents of citizen-initiated ballot initiatives to gather signatures from 2% of voters in each of Colorado’s 35 state senate districts. If this quota is not met, the initiative will not be placed onto the ballot.
This means that that if just one of Colorado’s 35 senate districts disapproves of a ballot measure, the district would have singular veto power over the initiative—effectively overriding the rest of the states’ voters.
Proponents of Amendment 71 claim it prevents special interests from meddling with the Colorado constitution. However, the campaign that helped pass Amendment 71 was funded largely by oil and gas companies eager to keep anti-fracking measures out of Colorado law books.
On July 10, 2018, Colorado Common Cause filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiff in Semple et al v. Williams. We argue that the geographical requirement in Amendment 71 violates the Equal Protection Clause’s “one person, one vote” doctrine by diluting the strength of a petition signature along geographical lines – favoring rural districts to the detriment of urban ones.
The lawsuit challenging Amendment 71’s constitutionality is currently pending before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. We will keep you updated as this case proceeds.