A day after his office suggested otherwise, Gov. Jared Polis announced Saturday that he's changing the rules to allow petition-gatherers to collect signatures remotely.
Polis signed three executive orders around petition-gathering and public safety, one that authorizes the secretary of state to create temporary rules to allow people to receive and return petitions over mail and email, as well as "support safe in-person signature gathering." Polis also is temporarily suspending the requirement that signatures occur in the presence of a petition circulator while the emergency COVID-19 order is in place.
“This is a challenging time for Colorado, but we must not sacrifice our democracy and the right of citizens to petition due to the pandemic," Polis said in a statement Saturday. "Protecting our democracy, access to the ballot and making sure citizens can qualify ballot measures and can qualify as candidates to run for office during this time is critical.
“I appreciate the work of Sec. Griswold and the thoughtful input we have received throughout this process.”
Another executive order instructs the Secretary of State’s "proceed safely and without interruption" with updated state health department's updated order on public health related to election judges, signature gatherers and circulators, campaign workers, and volunteers.
The decision Saturday morning came two days after Colorado Politics first pressed the governor on whether Polis intended to sign an executive order related to online petition-gathering, after receiving tips that his office was working on new rules.
Friday, his press office replied in an email, "As the Governor has previously indicated, he is committed to protecting Coloradans’ access to the ballot, and ensuring there are pathways for citizens to qualify ballot measures and to qualify as candidates for office, even now during this pandemic.
"He is actively weighing the best path forward for how to ensure citizens have various avenues to circulate and sign petitions safely, while ensuring equivalent effort for signors to qualify measures and candidates for the November ballot as what is currently required. The Governor is actively exploring options that we believe are allowable under the Constitution and is not pursuing an all-electronic form of signature gathering. Our office will have more to share soon."
Several measures are still awaiting enough signatures to make it onto the November ballot, including banning abortions after 22 weeks, oil and gas proposals on both sides and a potential tax on tobacco products.
Brighter, Healthier Future for Colorado's Kids, the organization behind the tobacco tax proposal, was delighted with Polis Saturday afternoon. Initiative 292 would increase the cigarette tax by $2 a pack to pay for health programs and Early Childhood Education.
"Governor Polis has done the right thing by giving measures already approved through the Title Board the opportunity to both protect public health and make it on the November ballot in the midst of this pandemic," Jake Williams, the executive director of Healthier Colorado, said in a statement. "Coloradans place a high value on their right to directly vote on major issues, and the Governor's announcement today will help keep this critical part of our democratic process alive. With these rules in place, we have even higher confidence than before that Initiative 292 will make the November 2020 ballot.
"We are one step closer to reducing the use of cigarettes and nicotine vaping products in Colorado, especially among kids, and to giving every child access to the early education services that are so critical to their long term success."