Uncertainty clouds Colorado's 2010 signature deadline

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June 1, 2010

Jon Caldara, who says he's been given until August 2 to submit petition signatures. Photo credit: Face The State

By Leslie Graves

If you're the sponsor of one of several dozen ballot initiatives filed for the November 2010 ballot in Colorado, what's the final deadline by which you must submit the signatures you collect?

The answer is not clear-cut.

Section 1, Paragraph 2 of Article V of the Colorado Constitution says:

"Initiative petitions for state legislation and amendments to the constitution, in such form as may be prescribed pursuant to law, shall be addressed to and filed with the secretary of state at least three months before the general election at which they are to be voted upon."

However, the Colorado State Legislature enacted House Bill 1326 in 2009. HB 1326 says, with respect to signature deadlines:

1-40-108. Petition - time of filing. (1) No petition for any ballot issue shall be of any effect unless filed with the secretary of state within six months from the date that the titles and submission clause have been fixed and determined pursuant to the provisions of sections 1-40-106 and 1-40-107 and unless filed with the secretary of state within the time required by the state constitution NO LATER THAN THREE MONTHS AND THREE WEEKS before the election at which it is to be voted upon. A petition for a ballot issue for the election to be held in November of odd-numbered years shall be filed with the secretary of state within the same time NO LATER THAN THREE MONTHS AND THREE WEEKS before such odd-year election. as is required by the state constitution for issues to be voted on at the general election. All filings under this section must be made by 3 p.m. on the day of filing.[1]

According to a May 27, 2010 report published by Peter Blake on Face The State:

"HB 1326 moved the deadline for submitting signatures up to 'no later than three months and three weeks before the election,' which would be July 12 this year. But for some reason the secretary of state’s office told [Jon Caldara] he could have the traditional date just three months in advance."[2]

I followed up with the Colorado Secretary of State to find out why they gave at least one of this year's initiative sponsors permission to file their signatures according to the deadline in the state constitution, rather than the deadline in House Bill 1326, quoting from Peter Blake's article. The one-line answer I got back didn't clear things up for me. Rich Coolidge, the office's Director of Communications, said only:

"The constitutional deadline is 3 months and the statutory deadline is 3 months and 3 weeks."

The National Conference of State Legislatures, in its list of 2010 petition drive deadlines, says:

"Under new law enacted by HB 1326 (2009), the new deadline is July 13, 2010 for any measure whose ballot title is fixed on or after May 15, 2009. However, this conflicts with a provision of Colorado's constitution. It is unclear which date will be applied."[3]

I confirmed with Jon Caldara that, as Peter Blake has written, Caldara has a letter in hand from the Colorado Secretary of State telling Caldara that the deadline is August 2. The letter is signed by Michael Hagihara, a legal specialist in the elections division.[4] This might suggest that the Office of the Colorado Secretary of State has concluded that there is a conflict between Colorado's constitution and the statute passed in 2009, and that it intends to honor the constitution, pending further illumination -- or there could be a different explanation. I hope their office will make their views on this public.

Is a letter from a staff attorney sufficient safeguard for an initiative sponsor about what the legal deadline really is in 2010?

If initiative sponsors turn their signatures in on August 2, and the SOS office counts the signatures and certifies the measure for the ballot, there is nothing to stop an initiative opponent from suing the Colorado Secretary of State's office, saying that they didn't have the right to arbitrarily change the deadline to August 2, if the 2009 statute is what should determine the filing deadline. What would a judge say in that circumstance? Initiative sponsors have no way of knowing what a judge would decide. That's what makes this cloudy situation troublesome: It makes it tough for initiative sponsors to feel a high degree of certainty about what Colorado's courts, if it comes to that, will say about what the deadline really is, after the deadine is long past.

See also


  1. Text of HB 1326
  2. Face the State, "Ballot initiative promoters can lose even when they win", May 27, 2010
  3. National Conference of State Legislatures, 2010 Petition Drive Deadlines
  4. Colorado Secretary of State, Elections Division staff list