Those who are looking to put citizen initiatives on future Colorado statewide ballots will have to come up with 25 percent more signatures than was required for measures that made it on the 2018 election.
The reason? A state law that sets the number of ballot signatures based on 5 percent of the total votes cast for all candidates for secretary of state.
Colorado's second-highest in-the-nation voter turnout in the Nov. 6 midterm election, hailed as a success of the state's mail-in-ballot system, also will drive a requirement for more signatures for future ballot measures for the next four years.
From 2015 through 2018, 98,492 signatures were required to get a measure onto the November general election ballot. As a matter of practice, most organizations that submitted signatures turn in twice as many to ensure they have enough valid signatures.
Beginning in the 2019 general election, those who intend to put statewide ballot measures in front of voters will have to collect about 124,527 signatures. That's based on the unofficial results for all votes cast for all candidates for secretary of state, which stands at 2,490,544. Election results will be final (and official) on Dec. 5.
But it isn't just more signatures that will be needed. Initiative proponents that pay for petition circulators will likely have to come up with more money. For example, Colorado Rising for Health and Safety, the group that put Proposition 112 on the ballot, paid its petition firm $384,981 for costs related to collecting petitions. The committee turned in 172,834 signatures, of which 123,195 were deemed valid by the secretary of state. Hence, the total number of signatures submitted cost the committee approximately $2.23 each.
Assuming a minimum of $2.23 each and double the number of required signatures, that could put the cost of putting a ballot measure in front of voters at more than $500,000, at least for the next four years.
Seth Masket, a professor of political science at the University of Denver, said he expects the high voter turnout "will change the political universe pretty substantially."
It will be that much harder to qualify a ballot measure for 2019 and beyond and will make it more expensive, he told Colorado Politics. Organizations that hire petition companies will have to do more work to qualify, and in the end, voters could see a shorter ballot.
The higher signature requirement will be put to the test for the 2019 election. In odd-year elections, ballot measures must deal with fiscal issues, such as the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights. Twenty-two draft ballot proposals have already taken the first step, submission to the General Assembly's legislative council staff. Those measures deal with severance taxes on oil and gas (statutory) and state fiscal policy (constitutional).
The new higher signature requirement will remain in effect until after the next election for secretary of state, in 2022.