Note: Ballotpedia will be read-only from 9pm CST on February 25-March 5 while Judgepedia is merged into Ballotpedia.
For status updates, visit
Ballotpedia's coverage of elections held on March 3, 2015, was limited. Select races were covered live, and all results will be added once the merger is complete.

Laws governing the initiative process in Colorado (archive)

From Ballotpedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Ballotpedia:WikiProject Law/Articles to improve This ballot law article has been archived. See updated article.

See also: Laws governing ballot measures in Colorado
Ballot law
BallotLaw final.png
State laws
Initiative law
Recall law
Statutory changes
Ballot Law Update
Current edition
Court cases
Lawsuit news
Ballot access rulings
Recent court cases
Petitioner access
Ballot title challenges
Superseding initiatives
Signature challenges
Laws governing
local ballot measures
Citizens of Colorado can use the initiative process to:

Submitting proposed wording for review

For an initiative, proponents must submit the original text of the measure to the directors of the Legislative Council Staff and the Office of Legal Services for review and comment. Proponents must designate two people as those representing the proponents in all matters affecting the petition. Drafts are to be submitted in typewritten form and are to be written in plain, non-technical language, using words with common and everyday meaning understandable to the average reader.

For a referendum, proponents must file signed petitions with the Secretary of State, not more than 90 days after final adjournment of the legislative session that passed the bill on which the referendum is demanded. Referenda cannot be demanded on laws "necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety, and appropriations for the support and maintenance of the departments of state and state institutions."

Public hearing on proposed ballot language

Upon receiving a proposed initiative, directors set a date for a public hearing no later than two weeks from the date the measure is filed. The director of the Legislative Council Staff provides proper notice of the date, time, and place for the meeting. Measures accepted as a legal filing are a matter of public record and are available for public distribution.

Comments on proposed initiated measures are prepared by the Legislative Council Staff and the Office of Legislative Legal Services for review during the public hearing. The comments typically contain a summary of the proposal followed by a series of questions concerning the wording, intent, and purpose of the proposal. The Legislative Council Staff and Legislative Legal Services directors may request the assistance of state agencies in preparing the comments. Agencies are required to assist when so requested. Proponents receive the comments prior to the meeting, but the comments are not disclosed to the public before the hearing, except with permission of the proponents.

The public hearing conducted by the Legislative Council Staff and Legislative Legal Services is informal in nature. The purpose of the meeting is to give the public notice that a proposal on a given topic is under consideration and to review the purposes and wording with the proponents so that the proposal states what the proponents want it to state. The comments are intended to help proponents clarify their proposal, but proponents are not required to accept the suggestions made in the comments.

The meeting is open to the public, but no testimony or comments are accepted from anyone other than the proponents. The meeting is tape recorded for the public record.

Title Setting Board

Following the public hearing, proponents may submit the measure to the Secretary of State who chairs the Title Setting Board. The ballot title, submission clause, and summary are established by the Board, consisting of the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, and the director of the Office of Legislative Legal Services.

The Title Board usually completes its work on the ballot title, submission clause, and summary at its first meeting. If the board is unable to complete action on all of its agenda, motions for rehearing may be continued until the board's next meeting.

Single-subject restriction

Colorado initiatives must adhere to the single-subject rule. This requirement was added to the Colorado Constitution in 1994 in a constitutional amendment, Colorado Single-Subject Act (1994), approved by the voters, and unsuccessfully challenged in the case of Campbell v. Buckley.[1]

If the state Title Board determines that the measure does not comply with the single-subject rule, proponents are given an opportunity to make changes to the proposal to bring it into compliance.

If the changes by the proponents involve only the removal of language to achieve a single subject, another review and comment hearing with the Office of Legislative Legal Services and the Legislative Council Staff may not be required. However, if the board finds that revisions are so substantial that another hearing is in the public interest, another review and comment hearing may be required.

If a proposal is revised and resubmitted to the board, a ballot title can be set or the Title Board may conclude that the proposal still contains more than one subject. In the event of a dispute over the single-subject rule, the board can set the title without reference to provisions it considered in violation of the rule. If the proposal passes, the constitution states that portions not clearly expressed in the ballot title are void.

Challenges to Title Board's decision

If a proponent or any registered elector claims that a ballot title, submission clause, or summary is unfair or does not fairly express the meaning of a proposal, that person may request a rehearing by the Ballot Title Setting Board. Such request must be made within seven days after the title and summary are set.

Such rehearing will be held at the next regularly scheduled meeting of the board. If the board is unable to complete action on the request for rehearing, consideration of the request may be continued until the next available day, except that if the request was to be heard on the last meeting date in May, it must be heard within 48 hours after the motion is filed. An appeal for change in the ballot title, submission clause, and summary may be made to the Colorado Supreme Court, pursuant to Section 1-40-107 (2) and (5), C.R.S.

Petition form approval

Once the seven-day period for filing a motion for rehearing with the Title Board has passed, petition forms may be submitted to the Secretary of State for approval. Approval or disapproval is to be made within 48 hours. Once the form has been approved, proponents may begin circulating petitions.

Signature requirements

Colorado signature requirements

The number of signatures required for a successful petition is equal to 5 percent of the total number of votes cast for the office of Secretary of State in the preceding general election. The same number of signatures is required for constitutional amendments, statutes and referendums.

Year Amendment Statute Veto referendum
2015 98,492 98,492 98,492
2014 86,105 86,105 86,105
2013 86,105 86,105 86,105
2012 86,105 86,105 86,105
2010 76,047 76,047 76,047
2008 76,047 76,047 76,047

DocumentIcon.jpg See law: Colorado Constitution, Article V, Section 1, ¶ 2

Petition circulation period

Initiative proponents have six months to collect their signatures from the time that their wording is approved by the Title Board, but signatures must be turned in no later than three months prior to the election where the measure is to appear on the ballot.


Residency requirements for petition circulators

Individuals who circulate a petition for an initiative or referendum measure must be an "elector," which means a resident of the state, a citizen of the United States, and at least eighteen years of age at the time the petition is circulated. Circulators do not have to be registered to vote.[2]


Colorado does not have a distribution requirement.

Signature verification process

The Secretary of State verifies signatures by a random sample procedure. Not less than 5% of the signatures and not fewer than 4,000 signatures are to be verified. If the sample indicates the number of valid signatures is 90% or less of the required total, the petition is deemed insufficient. If the valid signatures are found to be 110% or more of number required, the petition is deemed sufficient. If the validity rate falls between 90% and 110%, the law requires that each signature be verified.

Making the ballot and taking effect

Once sufficient signatures are certified, a measure is placed on the next general election ballot. If an initiated constitutional amendment is approved by voters, it becomes part of the Colorado Constitution. If an initiated state stature is approved, it becomes Colorado law. In the case of a referendum on a current state law, if the state law at issue is approved, it remains the law of the state. If the state law is disapproved, it becomes void. All approved ballot measures shall take effect as of the date of the official declaration of the vote by the governor, but not later than 30 days after the vote has been canvassed.

Legislative tampering

Main article: Legislative tampering

Colorado law allows the Colorado General Assembly to repeal and amend an initiative statute passed by the voters.


To file an initiative

The last day to submit text of an initiative for possible placement on the next general election ballot is three months prior to that election.

To submit petitions

Initiative Petitions: Proponents have six months from the time that their wording is approved by the Title Board to collect their signatures, but signatures must be turned in no later than three months prior to the election where the measure is to appear on the ballot.

Referendum Petitions: Petitions for a referendum on a bill passed by the state legislature must be filed with the Secretary of State not more than 90 days after final adjournment of the legislative session that passed the bill on which the referendum is demanded.

Campaign finance

Main article: Campaign finance requirements for Colorado ballot measures

Colorado's campaign finance laws include the following notable features:

  • Groups in support or opposition of a ballot measure in Colorado are treated differently than political action committees.
  • Colorado prohibits corporations and labor unions from spending their money to fund advertisements in support or opposition of a ballot issue.
  • Colorado allows corporations and labor unions to donate to Issue Committees.

Proposed changes


Changes in 2011 to laws governing ballot measures

Bills that have or might be introduced in the 2011 session of the Colorado General Assembly include:


Changes in 2010 to laws governing ballot measures

The following proposals were made during the 2009-2010 session of the Colorado General Assembly:


Changes in 2009 to laws governing the initiative process

Colorado House Bill 1326 (2009) was signed into law by Gov. Bill Ritter on Friday, May 29, 2009. The law was sponsored in the Colorado General Assembly by politicians Terrance Carroll, Brandon Shaffer, Josh Penry, Mike May, and Lois Court.[3]

Independence Institute v. Colorado Secretary of State, a lawsuit challenging several of HB 1326's key provisions, was filed in federal court in 2010. On June 10, 2010, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction forbidding the state from enforcing HB 1326's ban on pay-per-signature.

HB 1326 includes these provisions:

  • It forbids campaigns from paying circulators on a pay-per-signature basis.
  • People who successfully challenge the validity of signatures in court could sue the campaign to recover attorney's fee.
  • Ballot measures that change state laws (initiated state statutes) will henceforward be referred to as "propositions."
  • Requires that petition drive management companies who hire paid circulators go through a licensing process.
  • Petition sheet must carry a label to warn people that their signature will help place the question on the ballot.
  • Circulators who collect more than 100 signatures are required to go through a government-sponsored training procedure before they are allowed to collect additional signatures legally.
  • People who sign a petition and later change their mind will be able to have their signature withdrawn.[4]

External links