Wednesday, May 20, 2020 (Updated Saturday, May 23)
Boulder’s petitioning drama continues as this week revealed deadline discrepancies and legal challenges to the governor’s new workarounds to signature collection. City Attorney Tom Carr thinks things should be on track locally, but the developments have created further confusion for campaigns as time ticks away to qualify for November’s ballots.
Council on Tuesday will discuss new state guidance allowing for mailed and e-mailed signatures, a concession from Governor Jared Polis to save people from the danger of in-person petitioning. Carr has advised the rules won’t apply in Boulder — a home-rule city — unless council votes to adopt them.
Polis announced the measures May 16, but they won’t be finalized until June. Two local campaigns have June 5 deadlines to submit 3,336 signatures: No Eviction Without Representation, which seeks to provide attorneys to all tenants facing eviction in the city; and End the Muni, which would repurpose funds from the city’s Local Power project to other renewable energy efforts.
Patrick Murphy, an End the Muni organizer, said Tuesday he was nearing 1,000 signatures; NEWR representatives claimed to have collected close to 2,000 before coronavirus hit. The two campaigns have been coordinating, along with a third, to host signing events and do home delivery of all three petitions.
Bedrooms Are For People, which would alter Boulder’s relation-based occupancy limits, has a bit longer to gather support but a higher bar to clear. Because it changes the city charter, the deadline to remit 4,048 signatures is August 5.
A discrepancy exists in state and local requirements. Boulder’s charter allows for 180 days to collect signatures before they are submitted to the city clerk for verification. Colorado limits the circulation period to 90 days after a Statement of Intent is filed.
The Bedrooms campaign filed in March, resulting in a June 21 cutoff if state statute is followed. Another effort — Our Mayor, Our Choice, which would allow for direct election of the mayor rather than appointment by peers on council — has a July 30 deadline under Colorado law.
Carr and City Clerk Lynette Beck advised campaigns that the conflict left the door open for a lawsuit, according to an email thread on which members of council and the media were included. Carr at Tuesday’s council meeting said that “one resident of the community” had already raised the issue and the specter of legal action.
“There is a risk that someone will challenge any signatures submitted after June 21,” Carr wrote to Bedrooms organizer Chelsea Castellano. “You should seek independent legal counsel on this issue.”
Castellano was advised that submitting signatures by June 21 would “avoid the risk.” That was an “impossible” ask, Castellano responded, for a campaign already hobbled by social distancing and bans on public gatherings brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have been working tirelessly to make up for the time we lost obeying the stay-at-home order,” she wrote, “and to officially hear today that the deadline we have been given all along could potentially be overturned is heartbreaking.”
Neither the deadlines nor signature limits can be changed, Carr re-iterated Tuesday night, ensconced as they are in the charter. However, council can place petition questions directly on the ballot using whatever criteria it likes, via majority vote.
Several organizers spoke at Tuesday’s city council meeting to ask just that. Any criteria should take into account challenges posed by COVID; Charlotte Pitts suggested “pro-rated” thresholds for lost days. Eric Budd requested that council vote to place the measure on the ballot once half the normal amount of signatures was collected.
It’s unclear if there will be sufficient time for campaigns to take advantage mailed and e-mailed signatures, assuming council votes to allow them. Two lawsuits have already been filed challenging the executive order laying the groundwork for those, Colorado Sun reported, just days after Polis issued it. On Friday, Denver District Court Judge Robert McGahey indicated he would issue a ruling Wednesday, but warned that appeals were likely, possibly sending the case to the Supreme Court.
Carr believes the city could successfully defend against attempts to toss out signatures due to timing. Because of Boulder’s home-rule status, its charter should take precedence over state statue.
“That is my opinion,” he wrote Wednesday in response to emailed questions.
City council meeting: 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 26. Watch live online or on Channel 8.
Author’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the District Court proceedings that occurred after publication.
— Shay Castle, firstname.lastname@example.org, @shayshinecastle
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