DENVER (CN) — Health care advocates brought a federal complaint against Colorado, claiming a voter-approved constitutional amendment discriminates against urban voters by making it more difficult for them to place petitions on the ballot.
Fifty-five percent of Colorado voters approved Amendment 71 in the November 2016 general election. It purposely made it more difficult for voters to amend the state constitution through petition.
The amendment did not change the requirement that petitioners collect signatures from 5 percent of the number of Coloradans who voted for secretary of state in the previous general election to place an issue on the ballot.
But it added the requirement that petitioners collect at least 2 percent of the number of such voters from each of Colorado 35 state senate districts, and requires 55 percent approval for passage in the general election, rather than the previous 50 percent plus one.
Although the language of Amendment 71 said the new 2 percent requirement is “due to the relative ease of collecting signatures in heavily populated urban areas compared to sparsely populated rural areas,” the plaintiffs do not say it discriminates against rural voters.
They say it discriminates against urban voters, because urban senate districts are more populous than rural ones, so more signatures must be collected in cities than in the countryside.
The complaint cites “a huge variation in the population of registered voters in the various state senate districts.” The urban District 23 has 132,222 registered voters, for example, while rural District 21 has 80,449 — a variance of more than 60 percent.
The plaintiffs are The Coalition for Colorado Universal Health Care aka Cooperate Colorado, ColoradoCare Yes, a member from each of the two nonprofits, and Dan Hayes, a citizen behind a proposed local growth initiative.
ColoradoCareYes put Amendment 69 on the November 2016 ballot, a proposed statewide health care plan. Voters rejected it, but Cooperate Colorado wants to put a similar amendment on the 2018 ballot.
“By giving rural voters a greater voice in determining which initiatives appear on the ballot, Amendment 71 limited the voice of voters in heavily populated urban districts,” the complaint states.
Secretary of State Wayne William disagrees. He told Courthouse News that Amendment 71 “doesn’t discriminate between urban or rural senate seats.”
“I think the attempt to overturn Colorado’s voters is without merit,” Williams said. “Our plan is to vigorously defend it and support the voters of Colorado. Sixty of the 64 counties supported the change. Colorado voters are certainly free to put reasonable parameters on this process.”
The plaintiffs want the amendment enjoined as an unconstitutional violation of due process, the 2 percent requirement declared unseverable from the rest of the amendment, and the entire amendment voided.
They are represented by Ralph Ogden with Wilcox and Ogden, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.