Placing an Initiated Proposal on the Statewide Ballot
The process for placing a statewide initiative on the ballot is governed by the Colorado Constitution (Article V, Section 1
) and state law (Articles 40
and 41 of Title 1
, C.R.S.). The Secretary of State
and the Legislative Council have adopted rules to implement certain provisions of the constitution and state law, and the Colorado Supreme Court
has decided cases relating to the initiative process that interpret the constitution and state law. This document briefly outlines the various steps in the initiative process. Not all initiatives will be required to go through every step in the process, however. This document also highlights initiative deadline dates for the 2021 election. As with any summary, this summary does not address all of the specific details involved in the process. Please refer to the above-mentioned sources for complete information on the initiative process.
State law clarifies the types of proposals that can appear on a statewide ballot in odd-numbered years. Odd-year election proposals are limited to state matters arising under Article X, Section 20
of the Colorado Constitution, which is commonly referred to as TABOR or the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights. These types of proposals include a new tax, a tax rate increase, an extension of an expiring tax, a tax policy change directly causing a net revenue gain, and emergency taxes. They also include the creation of multiple year fiscal obligations or debt, an increase in the assessment rate for a class of property, the weakening of a state limit on spending, and voter-approved revenue changes. A full list of the types of and proposals that can be on a statewide ballot in an odd-numbered year can be found in Section 1-41-102
Step 1. Submission of Proposal for Review and Comment
Step 2. Review and Comment Meeting
Step 3. Submission of Revised Proposals
Step 4. Filing with Secretary of State
Step 5. Title Setting
Step 6. Revision of Proposal after Title Board Meeting
Step 7. Rehearings of Title Board Decisions
Step 8. Appeals of Title Board Decisions
Step 9. Signature Gathering
Step 10. Submission of Petitions to the Secretary of State
Step 11. Verification of Signatures
Step 12. Curing an Insufficiency
Step 13. Protesting the Secretary of State's Determination
Step 14. Placement on Ballot
Any person who intends to collect signatures to place a constitutional amendment or law on a statewide election ballot must submit the typewritten text of the proposed measure to the Legislative Council Staff for the scheduling of a review and comment meeting. The proposal should be written in plain, non-technical language, using words with common and everyday meaning understandable to the average reader. Proposals can be submitted either in person, by mail, by FAX, or by e-mail to:
Natalie Mullis, Director
Colorado Legislative Council Staff
State Capitol Building
Denver, Colorado 80203
A proposal must be accompanied by the names and addresses of two people who are representing the proponents in all matters relating to the proposal. Telephone numbers and e-mail addresses are also appreciated to speed communications with the designated representatives of proponents.
The Legislative Council Staff gives the proposal a number and schedules a public meeting, which will be two weeks from the date the measure is filed. The Legislative Council Staff also provides public notice of the date, time, and place for the meeting and the language of the proposal. A proponent can withdraw a proposal at any time.
Last day for submitting a proposal for the 2021 election: March 26, 2021
The purpose of a review and comment meeting is twofold:
to review the wording of an initiative with the proponents so that the initiative accomplishes the proponents' intent and
to give the public notice that a proposal on a given topic is under consideration. The Office of Legislative Legal Services and Legislative Council Staff jointly prepare written comments on each proposal. The comments typically contain a summary of the proposal followed by a series of questions concerning the wording, intent, and purpose of the proposal. These comments are provided to the proponents 48 hours before the meeting and are reviewed verbally with the proponents during the meeting. Both designated representatives are required to attend any review and comment meeting. The meeting is open to the public and recorded for the public record, but there is no public comment or testimony at the meeting. The proponents can revise their proposal to incorporate some or all of the legislative staff comments, but they are not required to do so. If proponents withdraw a measure prior to the meeting, the comments prepared by legislative staff are not released to anyone other than the proponents.
If either designated representative fails to attend a review and comment meeting, the petition is considered withdrawn by the proponents. If one of the designated representatives fails to attend a review and comment meeting, the proposal is deemed to be automatically resubmitted to the directors of the Legislative Council and Office of Legislative Legal Services for review and comment, unless the designated representative who is present objects to the automatic resubmission. A review and comment meeting on a resubmitted proposal is scheduled with the designated representatives and the staff of the Legislative Council and the Office of Legislative Legal Services on a date no later than five business days after the resubmission.
Last day for a review and comment meeting for the 2021 election: April 9, 2021
Some proponents revise their proposals after the review and comment meeting. A revised proposal must be submitted to legislative staff for review if the revisions are substantial and if they are not in direct response to a comment from legislative staff. Again, a public meeting is scheduled for two weeks following receipt of the proposal. The procedures followed are identical to those set forth in Steps 1
, except that if legislative staff has no additional comments on the revised proposal, the proponents are so notified and the review and comment meeting is canceled. This notification occurs within 72 hours of the proposal's submission.
Last day for submitting a revised proposal for the 2021 election when a review and comment meeting is required: March 26, 2021
Last day for a review and comment meeting on a revised proposal for the 2021 election: April 9, 2021
Following the review and comment process, proponents may submit their proposal to the Secretary of State to begin the process of having a title set. Proponents must submit the following items to the Secretary of State: (a) the original proposal; (b) the proposal as revised with any revisions highlighted or otherwise indicated, if applicable; and (c) the final language of the proposal. The proposal is filed with:
Ballot titles are set on the first and third Wednesdays of each month. To have a proposal considered for title setting, proponents must file their proposal with the Secretary of State by 3:00 p.m. on the 12th day before a meeting.
Last day for filing a proposal with the Secretary of State for title setting for the 2021 election: April 9, 2021
The ballot title and submission clause are set by a "Title Board," consisting of the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, and the director of the Office of Legislative Legal Services or their designees. The Title Board meets on the first and third Wednesdays of each month. Meetings of the Title Board are public, and action of the board requires a majority vote. Ballot titles must be brief, unambiguous, and in the form of a question that is answered "yes" to vote in favor of the proposed change and "no" to vote against the proposed change. Further, a ballot title for a proposal cannot conflict with any other title set for the same election. The Title Board is prohibited from setting a title if a proposal contains more than one subject, and the board is required to follow case law and the rules used by the General Assembly when making a determination whether a proposal contains a single subject. A title for a proposal must be set within two weeks after the first meeting of the Title Board.
Legislative Council Staff prepares a fiscal summary for each statewide initiated measure considered by the Title Board, and an initial fiscal impact statement if the measure is approved for signature gathering. The fiscal summary is included on the petition used to collect signatures, The initial fiscal impact statement is posted on the web within 14 days of a petition being approved for circulation. Proponents and other interested persons may submit fiscal information about proposed initiatives for consideration by Legislative Council Staff. More information about submitting fiscal information is available here
Last Title Board meeting for the 2021 election: April 21, 2021
If the Title Board finds that a proposal contains more than one subject, and therefore declines to set a title, the proponents may change the proposal and resubmit it directly to the board for title setting. However, if the change involves more than the removal of language to achieve a single subject or if the board finds the revisions are so substantial that another review and comment meeting is in the public interest, the proposal must be resubmitted to legislative staff for review. In these cases, the steps followed are identical to Steps
1 and 2.
Any proponent or registered elector who believes that a ballot title and submission clause are unfair or do not fairly express the meaning of a proposal may request a rehearing by the Title Board. A rehearing may also be requested if a proponent or registered elector is dissatisfied with the Title Board's decision relating to single subject. Such requests must be made within seven days of the single-subject decision or the setting of the title and submission clause. A rehearing must be held at the next regularly scheduled meeting of the board. If the board is unable to complete action on the request for rehearing at that meeting, it may be continued until the next available day. If the title and submission clause protested were set on the last meeting date in April, the rehearing must be conducted within 48 hours after the expiration of the seven-day period for requesting a rehearing.
The designated representatives or any registered elector who is not satisfied with the fiscal summary prepared by the Legislative Council Staff may file a motion for a rehearing with the Secretary of State within seven days after the titles and submission clause for the initiative petition are set on the grounds thatthe fiscal sumamry is misleading or prejudicial, or that it does not comply with statutory requirements. A motion for rehearing challenging the fiscal summary should note the specific wording or requirement at issue.
Last Title Board meeting for rehearings for the 2021 election: April 30, 2021
Anyone who is dissatisfied with the Title Board's action at a rehearing may file an appeal with the Colorado Supreme Court. The Court is required to act on the appeal promptly when an appeal is filed within five days of receiving the required documentation from the Secretary of State. The Court usually either affirms the action of the Title Board or reverses it, in which case the Court remands the case to the Title Board with instructions, pointing out where the Title Board erred.
Once the ballot title and submission clause are set and the petition form is approved by the Secretary of State, petitions for the proposal may be printed and circulated throughout the state to obtain the required number of signatures. Only registered electors may sign petitions. To be placed on the ballot, the signature requirement is at least five percent of the total votes cast for all candidates for the Office of Secretary of State at the previous general election. In addition to this signature requirement, a proposal that seeks to make a change to the Colorado constitution requires signatures of at least 2 percent of the total registered electors in each of the 35 Colorado state senate districts.
Number of valid signatures required for the 2021 election: 124,632
Signed petitions must be submitted to the Secretary of State within six months from the date that the title and submission clause were fixed by the Title Board, but in no event later than three months before the election. The six-month counting period begins when a final decision is rendered by the Title Board following a motion for rehearing or by the Supreme Court. (See the Secretary of State's rules for more specific information on the time period for collecting signatures.) Petitions must be submitted to the Secretary of State by 3:00 p.m. on the applicable date. Each petition section must contain an affidavit signed by the circulator affirming that signatures were collected in accordance with state law, and petitions must be bound in volumes of 100 sections.
Last day to submit signatures to Secretary of State for the 2021 election: 3:00 p.m., August 2, 2021
The Secretary of State reviews the petition to determine if it contains a sufficient number of valid signatures. The Secretary of State first verifies signatures by a random sample of at least 5 percent of the signatures. At a minimum, 4,000 signatures must be verified. If the sample indicates that the number of valid signatures is 90 percent or less of the required total, the petition is deemed insufficient. If the sample indicates that the number of valid signatures is 110 percent or more of number required, the petition is deemed sufficient. However, if the sample indicates the number of valid signatures is more than 90 percent but less than 110 percent of the required number, each signature on the petition must be verified. The Secretary of State has 30 days to make a determination of petition sufficiency. When a petition is insufficient, the Secretary of State is required to specify the number of insufficient signatures. Petitions are deemed sufficient if the Secretary of State fails to make a determination within 30 days.
Last day for the Secretary of State to make a determination on sufficiency of signatures for the 2021 election: September 1, 2021
The proponents of a proposal may cure an insufficient petition by submitting an addendum with the additional signatures necessary to cure the insufficiency. The proponents have 15 days to cure a petition, except that the 15 days does not extend the statutory deadline (three months before the election) for submitting signatures. The Secretary of State has ten days to verify each signature in the addendum.
Last day to cure petition signatures for the 2021 election: August 2, 2021
Any registered elector may appeal the Secretary of State's determination of sufficiency by filing a protest in Denver District Court. The protest must either allege defects in the random sampling procedure or challenge the grounds for allowing or denying specific signatures. A protest must be filed with the court within 30 days of the Secretary of State's determination, and the burden of proof lies with the protesting party. A hearing on a protest is required to begin as soon as is conveniently possible and must conclude within 30 days of when it began. The Colorado Supreme Court must review the district court's decision if so requested.
Proposals are numbered and placed on the ballot in the order in which statements of sufficiency are issued.