From the “politics makes strange bedfellows” department: Several organizations that haven’t exactly been on the same side of issues came out in support this morning of a lawsuit challenging Amendment 71, also known as Raise the Bar.
The amendment, adopted by voters last November, requires that those seeking to change the state Constitution obtain petition signatures in every one of Colorado’s 35 Senate districts.
That’s unconstitutional, according to a coalition that includes the Libertarian-minded Independence Institute, as well as the Colorado Foundation for Universal Health Care, which backed a failed amendment last November to create a single payer health care system in Colorado. The Independence Institute was among the most ardent opponents of that measure.
Currently, petitions to change the state Constitution must obtain signatures from 5 percent of the registered voters who voted for Secretary of State. That’s currently a little less than 100,000 signatures now. Amendment 71 added a requirement that in each of 35 Senate districts, 2 percent of registered voters must sign any petition seeking to amend the state’s Constitution.
Proponents of Amendment 71 claimed that the previous process excluded rural Coloradans, since petition gatherers could collect all of their signatures along the Front Range or other heavily populated urban areas.
The lawsuit, filed today in U.S. District Court, claims Amendment 71 violates both the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Colorado Constitution. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech; the 14th Amendment says that “no state shall … deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”
The state has no legitimate interest in ensuring that rural voters have a greater say in what goes on the ballot, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit also points out that state Senate districts, which are drawn to hold generally the same number of people, do not hold the same number of registered voters. For example, Senate District 21 (Commerce City) has 80,499 registered voters, while Senate District 4 (Parker) has 121,093 voters. By giving rural voters a greater voice, the amendment limits the power of voters in heavily populated urban districts, and thus violates the “one person, one vote” rule, the lawsuit states.
The purpose of Amendment 71 is to make it more difficult to place initiatives on the ballot, the lawsuit said, so its effect is to limit “core political speech…by making it more difficult for citizens to present important public issues to the public through the initiative process.” The lawsuit claims this, too, is a violation of both the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
Lawsuit proponents noted today that under Amendment 71, voters in one Senate district where fewer than 2 percent sign a petition, can effectively veto the will of the voters in the other 34 districts.
Greg Brophy, a spokesman for Raise the Bar, told The Colorado Independent today that some of those bringing the lawsuit “have an aversion to including rural Colorado in the initiative process. It should be harder to amend the Constitution than it is to change a law, and just like at the federal level, the process should be more inclusive.”
Photo credit: Lauren Swain