A lawsuit to overturn Gov. Jared Polis' executive order on petition-gathering to get on the November ballot will be in a Denver courtroom Friday morning, as business groups argue he overreached in his authority and violated the state constitution.
Polis signed the executive order on May 15 allowing petitions to be gathered by email, instead of the usual way of requiring a petition-gatherer to witness a signature from a registered voter. The order stems from the governor's push to keep people from mingling and spreading COVID-19.
Monday he was sued by the business alliance Colorado Concern and University of Denver chancellor emeritus Dan Ritchie alleging a breach of constitutional powers.
Thursday the case picked up allies, and not on the governor's side.
Protect Colorado, a group that supports pro-oil and gas ballot initiatives, intervened in the Colorado Concern lawsuit "on behalf of our energy industry employees and their families to ensure a fair and transparent election process," the group said.
Protect argues that in-person petition-gathering has already began and Polis is in the process of reopening the state, making the order unnecessary.
"This is not the time to open the door to unintended consequences, including the possibility for fraud," Protect Colorado said. "The power to change the constitutionally-mandated signature-gathering process lies with the Colorado legislature, not the governor. If Governor Polis wants to change the way Coloradans choose ballot measures, we urge him to go through the legislature."
They said that while the governor has extensive emergency power during a crisis, it does not extend to overruling the constitution to "unravel our system of checks and balances that ensure a fair and transparent political process. His attempt to hide the executive order announcement in a Saturday press release makes the move look like a big-government power grab. The notarization process prevents fraud and abuse, and therefore should not be eliminated. Boundaries delineated in the Constitution should not be crossed."
The governor's office said Monday it doesn't comment on pending litigation.
On Thursday more than three dozen business groups filed an amicus brief arguing the legislature has the authority to write laws on elections, not the executive branch.
The signatories "share a diverse, cross-ideological, and nonpartisan reaction to the Executive Order’s obvious and consequential overreach," states the brief obtained by Colorado Politics.
It cites recent state Supreme Court action, when it rejected Michelle Ferrigno Warren's plea to get on the June Democratic primary ballot after coming up short on the required number of petition signatures.
"Courts should be particularly vigilant when the executive branch invokes emergency powers to change longstanding electoral procedures. That much follows from the Colorado Supreme Court’s recent confirmation that there is no COVID-19 exception in the state’s election laws," the brief states.
"In Griswold v. Ferrigno Warren, the Court rejected a United States Senate candidate’s bid to be placed on the June Democratic primary ballot when she was “unable to collect the statutorily required 1,500 signatures in six of the seven required congressional districts.” Although the Court “recognize[d] the uniqueness of the current circumstances,” the threshold signature requirement “is a mandate requiring strict compliance” that “the legislature alone has the authority to change.”
Colorado Concern welcomed the support, said president and CEO Mike Kopp.
"Their brief properly highlights the nonpartisan nature of the case brought forward by Mr. Ritchie and Colorado Concern, and is absolutely on point in declaring the Executive Order to be unconstitutional. The constitution plainly requires that 'ballot-initiative signatures be collected in person,'" Kopp said. "The right to modify the constitution belongs to the people of the state alone and our outstanding bipartisan legal team is well-prepared to make this case to the court."
Those who signed onto the amicus brief included:
- American Petroleum Institute
- Associated General Contractors of Colorado
- Building Owners and Managers Association
- Colorado Advanced Manufacturing Association
- Colorado Agricultural Aviation Association
- Colorado Association of Home Builders
- Colorado Association of Mechanical and Plumbing Contractors
- Colorado Association of Realtors
- Colorado Association of Wheat Growers
- Colorado Business Roundtable
- Colorado Chamber of Commerce.
- Colorado Contractors Association
- Colorado Corn Growers Association
- Colorado Dairy Farmers
- Colorado Farm Bureau
- Colorado Hotel & Lodging Association
- Colorado Oil & Gas Association
- Colorado Petroleum Association
- Colorado Pork Producers Council
- Colorado Springs Chamber & Economic Development Corporation
- Colorado Wool Growers Association
- Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce
- Denver Metro Commercial Association of Realtors
- Denver South Economic Development Partnership
- Early Childhood Education Association
- Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce
- Freedom to Drive Coalition
- Fruita Area Chamber of Commerce
- Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce
- Greeley Area Chamber of Commerce
- Loveland Chamber of Commerce
- National Pork Producers Council
- Northern Colorado Legislative Alliance
- Pueblo Chamber of Commerce
- Ready Colorado
- South Metro Denver Chamber
- Special District Association of Colorado
- Upstate Colorado Economic Development
- Vail Valley Partnership