Tenth Circuit Revives Colorado ‘Raise the Bar’ Amendment

The Colorado statehouse. (Chris Marshall/CNS)

DENVER (CN) – Siding with the Colorado secretary of state – and Colorado voters – a 10th Circuit panel on Tuesday revived a voter-approved ballot initiative that makes it more difficult to amend the Centennial State’s constitution.

Approved by 55% of voters in the 2016 general election, Amendment 71 requires petitioners to gather signatures from 2% of each of the 35 state Senate districts in order to place initiatives on the ballot. The initiative also mandates amendments to the state constitution be approved by 55% of voters.

Previously, petitioners only needed to collect signatures from 5% of all registered voters and constitutional amendments passed with a simple majority.

Those in favor of the “Raise the Bar” initiative said it empowered rural voices typically left out of the process when petition requirements were filled in heavily populated urban areas.

A supporter of putting universal health care on the ballot, William Semple sued the state in 2017 claiming these restrictions unfairly diluted urban voting power. While each of the 35 state Senate districts contain about the same number of citizens, the number of registered voters in each vary: some districts have up to 60% more registered voters than others.

U.S. District Judge William J. Martinez struck down Amendment 71. In agreeing to take the appeal, however, the 10th Circuit revived the initiative for the November 2018 election.

On Tuesday, a majority of a three-judge 10th Circuit panel tossed Martinez’s judgment in Semple’s favor and ordered him to find for the state, reinstating Amendment 71.

U.S. Circuit Judges Michael Murphy and Carolyn McHugh, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama appointees, respectively, balked that a state would be expected to draw districts containing equal numbers of registered voters, rather than more or less equal numbers of people.

“No equal protection problem exists if votes are cast in equally populated state legislative districts that were drawn based on census population data,” Murphy wrote in his 20-page opinion. “In no instance has the court ‘determined the permissibility of [perfect population] deviation based on eligible- or registered-voter data.’”

While Murphy and McHugh saw the case a clear-cut issue of equal districts, U.S. Circuit Judge Mary Beck Briscoe recognized in Semple’s critique an issue of ballot access.

“Thus, in terms of voter equality, Amendment 71 is constitutionally problematic,” Briscoe wrote in a 26-page dissent.

“Because Amendment 71 requires a petition to be signed by 2% of the registered voters in each state Senate district, and because the number of registered voters in each state Senate district varies greatly, the result is that the effective weight of a signature varies greatly,” the Bill Clinton appointee wrote.

The Colorado Secretary of State’s office did not respond immediately to press inquiries.

%d bloggers like this: