Citizens’ fight to make Boulder ballot heads to state Supreme Court

Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020

Colorado’s highest court will weigh in on the mess Boulder created for itself this year after issuing incorrect guidance and changing its interpretation of election rules mid-cycle, sparking a legal challenge from a group trying to amend the city’s rules on unrelated persons living together. A district court judge last week ruled against Bedrooms Are For People, who then appealed. On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled it would hear the case.

Bedrooms is arguing that they followed the rules as presented, multiple times and by multiple officials, and therefore deserve a spot on November’s ballot. The campaign submitted 5,235 valid signatures, more than any other citizen petition and beyond the 4,048 they were instructed to collect.

Boulder City Attorney Tom Carr in June revealed the city’s guidance was incorrect but that it would be honored, allowing petitions a path to the ballot. He reversed course the following month, notifying campaigns that petitions would not be certified but asking that city council use its legislative powers to refer the measures to voters.

City council on July 21 issued its own interpretation of what Judge Andrew MacDonald called the city’s confusing and hard-to-interpret rules and declined to place Bedrooms on the ballot. (They did refer an amended version of another citizen petition.) Outside counsel in August successfully argued before MacDonald that official guidelines couldn’t be held to the standard of law.

“Because the Guidelines are not an authoritative source of law on the procedures required for citizens to exercise the power of the initiative,” MacDonald wrote, “the Court cannot direct the City to enforce the procedures contained in the Guidelines.”

If that ruling is allowed to stand, Bedrooms’ attorneys argued in the appeal, it would set a precedent that no municipality anywhere in Colorado could be held accountable for giving incorrect election information.

“It would essentially read equitable estoppel out of the law for election disputes,” the brief read, “and eliminate the available remedy for the wrong that occurred here.”

Equitable estoppel is one of the legal arguments Bedrooms’ is making in its claim for relief. It is a doctrine “preventing one party from taking unfair advantage of another when, through false language or conduct, the person to be estopped has induced another person to act in a certain way, which resulted in the other person being injured in some way.” (Source:

Attorneys for Bedrooms’ are also arguing that Boulder retroactively changed the election rules, which is prohibited by the Colorado Constitution.

Swift action is expected. Ballot content has to be finalized by early September, and city council will at its Sept. 1 meeting finalize the measures it is referring, including a settlement and franchise agreement with Xcel and a citizen-led effort to directly elect Boulder’s mayor via ranked choice voting.

Our Mayor, Our Choice was also affected by the changing rules; they submitted 4,021 valid signatures.

— Shay Castle,, @shayshinecastle

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