Pro-ballot initiative coalition targets Amdt 71, will sue secretary of state

Author: John Tomasic - April 21, 2017 - Updated: April 21, 2017

Secretary of State Wayne Williams, a Republican, at the Capitol, April 21, 2016. (Photo by John Tomasic/The Colorado Statesman)
Secretary of State Wayne Williams at the Capitol, April 21, 2016. Williams will be named as defendant in the Amendment 71 case. (Photo by John Tomasic/The Colorado Statesman)

The Colorado ballot initiative that made it more difficult for residents in the state to pass ballot initiatives has drawn a lawsuit.

The Coalition for Colorado Universal Health Care and ColoradoCareYes — groups tied to the failed ballot initiative last year that would have established public health care in the state — plan to file the suit Monday. Members say Amendment 71 unconstitutionally hobbles the “direct democracy route” to public policy-making that long has been a central feature of Colorado politics and a weapon to fight ideological gridlock and corporate power.

Amendment 71 and the lawsuit targeting it concern initiatives that would amend the state constitution. The state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights passed as a constitutional initiative, as did marijuana legalization.

Amendment 71 passed in 2016 with the support of many of the state’s top officials and a raft of influential business groups. It amassed a campaign war chest of some $3 million, much of it given by oil and gas industry groups.

The amendment came after a wave of initiative proposals threatened to wrest from the state more zoning-like power for local governments over oil and gas drilling.

“Amendment 71 made it more difficult to pass an Amendment in Colorado–unless you are wealthy,” read a Friday release. “The amendment requires citizens who want to pass a constitutional amendment to gather a difficult-to-obtain quota of signatures from each of 35 senate districts and also win 55 percent of the vote.

“That’s so expensive as to be almost impossible for grassroots groups. It’s also unconstitutional.”

The suit names Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams as defendant. It turns on the idea that Amendment 71 gives greater weight to votes cast by residents in rural counties at the expense of votes cast by residents of urban population centers. The argument will lean on legal precedent that holds such laws violate the basic principle of majority rule and cite judgments that struck down similar efforts as no different constitutionally from efforts to dilute votes based on race or economic status.

The lead attorney for the groups is Ralph Ogden, who helped write Amendment 69, the 2016 universal health care initiative.

John Tomasic

John Tomasic

John Tomasic is a senior political reporter for The Colorado Statesman covering the Colorado Legislature.

One comment

  • John Wren

    April 21, 2017 at 12:16 pm

    Very self-serving for the attorney who has pushed ballot measures to do this, isn’t it? Who is funding the effort?


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