Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJuly 27, 20172min310

Denver Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson, who among other career milestones, played a prominent role in the court battle over same-sex marriage, announced today she won’t seek a third term when her post comes up for election in two years. From a press release just issued by her office:

“It is my privilege and honor to serve the citizens of Denver since being elected in 2011,” Clerk Johnson said. “With two more years left in office, I still have much to accomplish. However, I plan to retire from public service after 25 years.”

The announcement recounts how Johnson — an advocate of marriage equality who believed clerks should be able to issue licenses to same-sex couples — turned down one same-sex couple in 2014 so they could take her to court. Her aim was for the couple to challenge the state’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage. The couple did so, and as the  clerk’s press statement notes, “the courts sided with Johnson and the City and County of Denver to usher in marriage equality.”

Some of Johnson’s other accomplishments touted in the new release:

  • She wrote and championed legislation closing the loopholes in Colorado’s proxy marriage laws to ensure marriage can’t be used for sex trafficking or bringing people into the country illegally.
  • Johnson was instrumental in the passage of historic recording legislation which ensures that all Colorado counties have up-to-date electronic recording equipment. This legislation had little benefit for Denver but was key to maintain the efficiency and integrity of recording in Colorado.

Johnson is only Denver’s second elected clerk and recorder.


Peter MarcusPeter MarcusJuly 24, 20175min474

The Colorado Supreme Court is being asked to review what constitutes a “fee” or a “tax,” which could leave funding for elections in jeopardy.

The case, initially filed by the National Federation of Independent Business, claims that businesses carry an unfair burden of the cost of funding state and county elections through business filings. The group hopes to reclaim the revenue, which would potentially throw elections into flux.

NFIB and the Secretary of State’s Office – which administers elections in Colorado – is asking the Supreme Court for clarity. The request stems from a March Colorado Court of Appeals decision, in which the appellate court required more information before making a decision.

Prior to the appellate order, a lower court in November 2015 tossed NFIB’s lawsuit, which brought the case to the Court of Appeals. The case started under former Secretary of State Scott Gessler, a Republican.

The question at the heart of the case is whether business filings collected by the department qualify as a “fee” or a “tax.”

“NFIB’s petition asks the Supreme Court to take the case to make clear that the secretary’s statutory authorization to unilaterally raise business filing ‘fees’ is facially unconstitutional and urges the court to issue a definitive ruling that all of the secretary’s increased business filing charges, post-1992, have amounted to illegal taxes under Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights,” read a news release from NFIB.

NFIB contends that the business filings are no different than a “tax” since the filings fund general operations rather than a particular service. Assuming the filings amount to a “tax,” then the revenue would have to be approved by voters under TABOR, attorneys argue.

The state, however, points out that a charge is a “fee” under TABOR when it funds a particular function or service. Because the fees charged by the secretary of state are placed in a segregated account and may be used only to fund the department’s operations, it is defined as a “fee,” the state argues.

The charges were enacted in 1983 — well before TABOR  — and the legislature required the department to set and adjust fees for all department work.

Business filings range from $5 to $125, and make up nearly the entirety of the Department of State’s approximate $20 million-plus annual budget. Only about 10 percent of the charges pay for business-related services, according to attorneys for NFIB.

The other 90 percent of the charges collected each year pay for general government expenses overseen by the department. The largest portion goes to the department’s elections division, which accounts for approximately 65 percent of the department’s total annual budget.

If the Supreme Court sides with business interests and the secretary of state’s office is no longer allowed to use business filings to fund elections, then the legislature would have to come up with about $20 million from the general fund to pay for operations.

In its request to the Supreme Court, NFIB argues that, “The unquestionable primary use of the business charges is to pay for functions and activities unrelated to business services. NFIB contends that this arrangement makes the business charges a tax rather than a valid fee. As a tax, the business charges are subject to TABOR.”

“Because a significant portion of the business licensing charges are appropriated to defray the Secretary of State’s general expenses, the business licensing charges are a tax and not a ‘fee,’” said Karen Harned, executive director for NFIB’s Small Business Legal Center. “Thus, the state is imposing an illegal tax on small businesses to fund obligations; that should be a cost shared by everyone rather than just Colorado’s entrepreneurs.”


Ernest LuningErnest LuningJuly 4, 201726min5282

A group of Georgia voters and a Colorado-based watchdog organization filed a lawsuit late Monday asking a judge to overturn the results of last month’s 6th Congressional District special election and scrap the state’s voting system, Colorado Politics has learned. The complaint, filed in Fulton County Superior Court, alleges that state and local election officials ignored warnings for months that Georgia’s centralized election system — already known for potential security flaws and lacking a paper trail to verify results — had been compromised and left unprotected from intruders since at least last summer, casting doubt on Republican Karen Handel’s 3.8-point win over Democrat Jon Ossoff in the most expensive House race in the nation’s history.


Chris BianchiChris BianchiJune 22, 201721min2938

The quick answer: yes. The real answer: it's complicated. Helped by an influx of transplants drawn to Colorado's liberal marijuana laws, high-tech economy and overall high quality of life, the state, by most metrics, is in a considerable economic boom. That same associated population growth, by the way, likely means ...


Peter MarcusPeter MarcusMarch 2, 20176min447
The Colorado Court of Appeals on Thursday sent a case back to a lower court that could leave future funding for state and local elections in jeopardy. The case, filed by the National Federation of Independent Business, claims that businesses carry an unfair burden of the cost of funding state and county elections. The business group […]

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Harvie BranscombHarvie BranscombFebruary 27, 20174min482

Ten years ago when Coloradans voted in their precincts, many of us fed anonymous ballots into scanners and personally watched 90 percent of our election process. Results were posted by citizen judges on precinct doors, then summed and reported by county clerks. This process was simple, straightforward, run by citizens and, most importantly, witnessed and verified by citizens.

Peter MarcusPeter MarcusJanuary 25, 20175min225
Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams is reaffirming the integrity of the state’s elections system even as President Donald Trump alleges instances of voter fraud nationwide. Williams, a Republican, said Colorado employs safeguards to make sure elections are secure. “In Colorado, our clerks and our judges prevent the overwhelming majority of attempts to vote that are […]

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Peter MarcusPeter MarcusJanuary 24, 20177min359
A suit before the Colorado Court of Appeals today sought to reclaim revenue the state now uses to pay for its elections — leaving its future funding in question. The case, filed by the National Federation of Independent Business, claims that businesses carry an unfair burden of the cost of funding the state’s elections, including costs carried […]

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Mario NicolaisMario NicolaisOctober 28, 20165min306

Recently I went to the annual Colorado Judicial Institute’s Annual Award Dinner. Because CJI is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the merit selection system in Colorado, it invited a keynote speaker from a state where judges stand for election to share her experiences. In her sweet, southern accent, former Alabama Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb captivated her audience for nearly an hour retelling stories from the campaign trail and envying Colorado’s system. Chief Justice Bell Cobb is a legal powerhouse who achieved notoriety as the only Democrat to win statewide elected office in ruby-red Alabama during the 2006 election. She also became the first woman to hold the highest office in Alabama’s legal system. Think of her as a kind of southern Ruth Bader Ginsburg — or, consequently, maybe as the “Notorious SBC.”