Laws governing local ballot measures in Colorado
This article sets out the laws governing local ballot measures in Colorado. It explains:
- Which local units of government make the initiative process available to residents.
- How and whether local units of government, including school districts, can refer local ballot measures (such as school bond propositions) to the ballot.
- An overview of laws governing local recall elections.
Types of local government
The U.S. Census Bureau's 2012 study of local governments shows that, as of September of 2012, local government in Colorado consists of:
333 General Purpose units, including:
- 64 Counties (including the consolidated city-counties of Denver and Broomfield which are listed by the U.S. Census Bureau as city governments)
- 271 Cities and towns
2485 Special Purpose units, including:
- 2305 Special Districts
- 180 Independent School Districts
Counties may be:
- General law: of which there are 60
- Home rule charter: of which there are 2 (Weld and Pitkin County)
Cities and towns may be:
- General law: of which there are 172
- Home rule charter (if over 2,000 in population): of which there are 96
- Consolidated City and County: 2 (Denver and Broomfield)
- There is also 1 remaining territorial charter municipality (Georgetown)
Colorado has two different types of ballot measures that are required under two different laws. The first is the Taxpayer Bill of Rights from 1992, which became Section 20 of Article 10 of the Colorado Constitution. Under TABOR, local voter approval is required if the school district wants to exceed its tax levy above the normal rate of inflation set by the consumer price index. The second law is the School Finance Act of 1994. Under the act, voter approval is required when a school district wants to exceed the limit for raising its Total Program Budget. The Total Program Budget is a combined budget that includes the district's general fund, special education and other costs. A school district that wants to exceed the previous year's Total Program Budget by more than 125% must put a plan before the voters. This type of ballot measure has rarely been used; it is considered to be a last resort option. Colorado law imposes limits on when school districts can hold special elections. Colorado only allows special elections in even numbered years on pre-established general and primary election days in May and November. In odd-numbered years, special school district elections can only occur on the first Tuesday in November. School districts that want to exceed their TABOR limit can sometimes combine this request with a city TABOR request.
Local recall rules
| Ballot Law Portal|
|Laws Governing Ballot Measures|
- For additional detail, see: Laws governing recall in Colorado
Campaign finance rules
Initiative process availability
|A guide to local ballot initiatives|
An initiative process is available in all cities and towns. In charter cities, initiative is also available for charter amendments.
In charter counties (Weld and Pitkin) initiative is available for county measures and charter amendments.
Citizens in general law counties do not have broad initiative authority to propose county measures. However, specific state statutes grant a petition process for limited subject matters. For example:
- Recall of county elected officials, C.R.S. §1-12-103 & 104; Formation of a home rule charter committee, C.R.S. §30-11-502(1) et seq.; Increasing the number of county commissioners from three to five (in counties having a population greater than 70,000), C.R.S. §30-10-306.5(3)(a); Decreasing the number of county commissioners from five to three (in counties having a population greater than 70,000), C.R.S. §30-10-306.7 (2)(b); Enacting a countywide sales tax ordinance, C.R.S. §29-2-104; Establishment of a county library, C.R.S. §24-90-107(1),(3); Establishment of public improvement district (PID) or a local improvement district (LID), C.R.S. §30-20-501 et seq. and C.R.S. §30-20-601 et seq., respectively; Establishment of various districts, C.R.S. §30-20-801 et seq.
Colorado Constitution, Article V, Section 1(9) reserves the initiative and referendum powers to the registered electors of every city, town and municipality.
|“||(9) The initiative and referendum powers reserved to the people by this section are hereby further reserved to the registered electors of every city, town, and municipality as to all local, special, and municipal legislation of every character in or for their respective municipalities. The manner of exercising said powers shall be prescribed by general laws; except that cities, towns, and municipalities may provide for the manner of exercising the initiative and referendum powers as to their municipal legislation. Not more than ten percent of the registered electors may be required to order the referendum, nor more than fifteen per cent to propose any measure by the initiative in any city, town, or municipality.||”|
Colorado Constitution, Article XX authorizes cities and towns over 2,000 in population to adopt a home rule charter and grants initiative for charter amendments.
Cities and towns: Colorado Revised Statutes Title 31, Art. 11, prescribes the initiative process, but cities are allowed to alter certain requirements such as different filing deadlines and signature percentages, subject to the Constitutional signature percentage limits.
C.R.S. 31-2-212 states that home rule charters must have provisions for initiative. Charter cities often reference or mirror the process in the state statues, but may alter some requirements. C.R.S. 31-2-210 governs the process for charter amendments.
Counties C.R.S. 30-11-103.5 governs petitions in general law counties for matters authorized by law.
C.R.S. 30-11-506 mandates a process for initiative for charter county charter amendments.
C.R.S. 30-11-508 mandates that charter counties (Weld and Pitkin) have an initiative process for county measures.
Initiative process features
|Local I&R Laws in the 50 States|
|Source:Local Ballot Initiatives: How citizens change laws with |
clipboards, conversations, and campaigns
General law cities
Initiative in the top 10 most populated cities
|List of Most Populated Cities in Colorado|
|City||Population||City Type||Next election|
|Denver||619,968||Charter as consolidated city-county||May 7, 2013|
|Colorado Springs||426,388||Charter||Special Election|
|Fort Collins||146,762||Charter||April 2, 2013|
|Thornton||121,435||Charter||November 5, 2013|
|Westminster||107,967||Charter||November 5, 2013|
|Pueblo||107,577||Charter||November 5, 2013|
|Arvada||107,541||Charter||November 5, 2013|
|Centennial||102,603||Charter||November 5, 2013|
The top 10 most populated cities in Colorado are all governed under a home rule charter. Initiative is available for charter amendments under state law as detailed above. Charter cities must also allow initiative for ordinances under state law, but may differ from the general law requirements and set their own signature percentages, filing deadlines or additional requirements by charter. The provisions below come from the specific city charter or code. Click on the citation links to read the full requirements for the initiative process.
- ↑ The U.S. Census Bureau's 2012 study of local governments
- ↑ Ballotpedia: Types and #'s of local governments by state
- ↑ US Census Bureau "City and Town Totals: Vintage 2011 (Population figures as of 2011 Census estimates)
- ↑ Denver Elections Division
- ↑ Colorado Springs City Elections
- ↑ Aurora Colorado Elections Schedule
- ↑ Fort Collins Elections
- ↑ Lakewood Elections
- ↑ Thornton Elections
- ↑ Thornton Elections
- ↑ Pueblo Elections
- ↑ Arvada Elections
- ↑ Centennial Elections
- ↑ 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 14.5 14.6 14.7 14.8 14.9 US Census, Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Incorporated Places in Colorado: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2011
- Research document of Colorado local I&R laws
- Colorado Municipal League
- Colorado Division of Local Government