Judge dismisses complaints that anti-affirmative action petitioners misled voters

(Photo/Joe Gratz, Flickr)

(Photo/Joe Gratz, Flickr)

An administrative law judge has thrown out charges that Amendment 46 petition circulators misled people into signing onto the anti-affirmative action measure.

Amendment 46 seeks to end preferential treatment for women and minorities in public employment, education and contracting. The controversially named Colorado Civil Rights Initiative is part of a five-state effort launched by California businessman Ward Connerly to end affirmative action.

Connerly’s campaign has been criticized as a misleading attempt to make voters believe that they are promoting equal opportunity rather than destroying it. And in Colorado, at least a half-dozen people filed complaints with the secretary of state’s office, saying they were duped by petition circulators who told them that signing onto Amendment 46 would uphold diversity programs.

But last Friday, an administrative law judge dismissed those claims because they did not provide enough detail. And though several of the six complainants say they may file their grievances again, the months-long process has left them demoralized.

“I think all of us are going through some form of shock right now,” says Venita Vinson, a retired Denver resident who used to work for former Colorado Rep. Pat Schroeder, a Democrat. Vinson says that she was approached by a petition circulator for the Colorado Civil Rights Initiative last October outside of a King Soopers in Denver. The circulator asked her to sign on for affirmative action. “When I said to the circulator, ‘But we already have affirmative action,’ her response was ‘But it is due to expire.'” Vinson did not read the text of the petition but signed it anyway.

It wasn’t until months later, at a community meeting, that she found out about the true intent of the initiative. “At that point, I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, I signed it.'” The revelation prompted her to file a complaint with the secretary of state to get her name struck from the petition.

Others, like Candace Frie, read the text of the initiative but still signed, not understanding that she was opting to abolish affirmative action. She was approached last February outside a King Soopers in Arvada. “I was going in and a fellow came up to me, an African-American male, and asked me to sign a petition to end discrimination in Colorado,” she says. “I asked if I could read it and it did say it would end discrimination. I didn’t see anything that raised any red flags.” (The language of the initiative prohibits preferential treatment and discrimination.)

She told the circulator that she was upset about the way that immigrants and gays are treated in Colorado. “He said, ‘This is going to take care of that.’ But a week and a half later I found out that it was the anti-affirmative action amendment.”

“I just felt ill,” says Frie, a retired high school teacher whose husband, Bob Frie, is the mayor of Arvada. “That goes against what I believe in. I have worked with migrant workers. I have worked with the poor. It just goes against everything I believe in.”

In March, Frie filed a complaint with the secretary of state’s office also hoping to remove her signature from the petition.

Three others filed similar grievances, while Tracy Sear, an interior designer from Englewood, reported similarly misleading tactics to the secretary of state, but chose not to sign any petitions.

Sear was approached in early February outside of a Target store by a man who said that the initiative would restore “equality in the workplace.” When Sear asked him whether the measure would destroy affirmative action, he told her that it “could” eliminate some parts of it. According to Sear’s complaint, “I had to ask very specifically a couple of times and press him for an answer before he would admit that the measure would in fact eliminate affirmative action.”

The next day, Sear had a similar experience with a female petitioner outside a King Soopers who said that the initiative would stop “preferential hiring.”

“The language is so vague, it is hard to wrap your mind around what the ramifications could be,” says Sear.

The complainants — whose grievances were compiled into a single case — were told that they could not take their names off of the petitions. “It is kind of like casting a vote,” explains Rich Coolidge, spokesman with the secretary of state’s office. “As soon as you cast your ballot it is counted.” They were referred to an administrative law judge to hash out their grievances against Amendment 46’s backers.

But the judge dismissed their complaints on Friday, saying that they did not provide enough detail to move forward. Sear says that they were asked to cite Colorado statute that was violated.

“This took a toll on all of us,” says Sear, who doesn’t know if she will re-file her complaint. “It developed a life of its own and turned into a much more technical and time-consuming endeavor than we expected.”

Amendment 46’s backers, meanwhile, say they are pleased with the outcome.

“Given the lack of evidence presented by our opposition, the court did the right thing by dismissing all of the complaints,” said Jessica Peck Corry, director of the Colorado Civil Rights Initiative and a policy analyst with the conservative Independence Institute think tank, in an e-mail. “We will continue to fight with vigor any and all false allegations against Amendment 46.”

The court’s dismissal is just the latest in a string of failed attempts to challenge Amendment 46. Earlier this month, the secretary of state ruled that a counter-initiative aimed at defending affirmative action did not have enough valid signatures to make it onto the ballot. Then the Vote No on Amendment 46 campaign dropped its lawsuit that claimed, among other things, that signature gatherers were trucked in from out of state, which is illegal in Colorado.

“Our opponents have exhausted their legal options and we now welcome them to have an honest debate before voters on the merits of Amendment 46,” said Corry.

To read more of The Colorado Independent’s extensive coverage on Amendment 46 and Ward Connerly’s national efforts, click here.

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Naomi Zeveloff

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