Deadline drama, legal risks and new rules add to confusion for Boulder’s petition circulators

Residents line up in North Boulder Park to sign a petition. (Shay Castle / Boulder Beat)

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,, @shayshinecastle

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0 Comments Leave a comment

  1. All these local problems and more could have been avoided if city and state staff hadn’t obstructed implementation of the online petitioning older voters put in the city Charter in 2018. Here is most of the evidence: /petitionstory

    Here are two emails from Governor Polis to me, one of them public, showing that in 2017 he promised support AND FINANCING for Statewide online petitioning, but which he has reneged on:

    ——— Forwarded message ———-
    From: “Jared Polis”
    Date: Oct 18, 2017 10:18 AM
    Subject: Re: Fund a ballot Initiative for online initiative petitioning?
    To: , “Evan Ravitz”

    That’s a great idea! Are there any jurisdictions that currently allow this?

    Online signatures ARE valid for contracts under federal law and it shouldn’t be too hard to verify.

    Do you think our Secretary of State could do this on their own or we need a statutory change?

    I opposed Amend 71 and donated to the opposition and I’m still shocked it passed.


    On Wed, Oct 18, 2017 at 9:41 AM Evan Ravitz wrote:
    Jared, most of us at Citizens in Charge Colorado, who’ve been fighting things like Referendum O and Amendment 71 for over a dozen years, agree that the best Improvement to initiatives would be for the Secretary of State to allow signing initiative petitions online.

    This would a enable groups without huge funds to qualify for the ballot, save the SOS the time and expense of comparing physical signatures, reduce harassment and misrepresentation to get signatures, get more people to read more of the petition texts before signing, and save time gas paper and money.

    It would show that you really do believe in the people you represent, not just in having another way for wealthy people to promote their political ambitions. I’ve shown you the list of recent successful Colorado ballot initiatives, which you agreed was quite impressive. As I’ve said, it’s a record far better than that of any state legislature, let alone Congress.

    And it would show that you take some responsibility for Amendment 71 (not to mention Trump), which only passed because Democratic and Millennial turnout was greatly reduced by your candidate Clinton’s stealing the nomination from Bernie Sanders.

    Likely because of 71 there are no 2017 Colorado initiatives:

    2018, when turn out should be massive, unless “Democrats” impose another Hillary, would be the right time for such an Amendment. We would need to get going on it now.

    What do you think?

    Evan Ravitz, guide, photographer, writer, editor. Ex-not-so-tight-rope artist. Direct democracy promoter since 1989. The improbable takes a bit longer…

    ——— Forwarded message ———
    From: Jared Polis
    Date: Sat, Oct 21, 2017, 2:12 PM
    Subject: Re: fund an initiatives to allow signing petitions on the SOS website?
    To: Evan Ravitz

    Well if it’s not going I can’t help (I don’t think “ad hoc” funding exists under state law, there needs to be a committee set up and donations are disclosed . But if they get it going I would be happy to seed it with a $2000 donation and then I would match the next $5,000 they raise with an additional $5,000.
    Maybe they kind of specificity will help.


    On Sat, Oct 21, 2017 at 1:39 PM Evan Ravitz wrote:
    I can’t make this happen. The underwhelming response on the CIC-CO email list has to be because of people’s experience with you, from your betraying anti-fracking initiatives with the left to your earlier secretive “gang of four” actions with the right.

    Maybe to get people to take you seriously you have to put up the money up front to an ad hoc group that will make this happen, or write a solid contract that you will follow through.

    I just don’t see you following through on anything having to do with direct democracy. I think it was just something else for you to use for your personal advancement, to be discarded when inconvenient, like me.

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