If you were to pick a package of the most partisan bills from the 2019 session, a good bet would be four bills on elections and campaign finance signed by Gov. Jared Polis on Wednesday.
The signing ceremony at the state Capitol on Wednesday drew Democratic county clerks, the Democratic secretary of state, and a host of left-leaning supporters, including the attorney for the state Democratic Party, New Era Colorado and America Votes.
The bills signed Wednesday:
House Bill 1278, which, as introduced,drew strong opposition from the Colorado County Clerks Association. That included testimony against the bill from Democratic clerks in Eagle, Pueblo, Routt and Summit counties counties, as well as Republican clerks from Douglas, El Paso and Fremont counties. The bill went through more than 100 amendments, and eventually, the clerks' association moved to a neutral position.
Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg of Boulder, a co-founder of New Era, said Wednesday the bill modernizes the election systems and that under the new law, everyone eligible to vote has an opportunity do do so. Democratic Rep. Susan Lontine of Denver said the bill will ensure voters don't have to stand in long lines on Election Day.
The final version:
- changes the hours for voter service centers and requires county clerks to add more drop boxes, although it also allows counties to obtain a waiver of the drop box requirement for the 2020 general election;
- requires counties to place voting service centers and drop boxes on college campuses; and
- changes the number of signatures required to place an unaffiliated, independent or minor party candidate on the ballot by petition. That led to complaints from Unite Colorado, among others, that the law makes it harder for those candidates to get on the ballot. For example, in 2018, the number of petition signatures to get onto the ballot for governor for an unaffiliated candidate was 5,000; under HB1278, it's now 10,500, or 1,500 per congressional district. That number could increase to 12,000 if Colorado gets an eighth congressional seat, as is expected after the 2020 census.
According to its sponsors, House Bill 1318, known as the Clean Campaign Act of 2019, will prevent foreign contributions to issue committees, which support or oppose ballot initiatives. Issue committees also handle the finances for recalls of elected officials. At least six issue committees are registered with TRACER, the secretary of state's campaign finance system. All but one seek the recall of Democrats.
Senate Bill 235 allows for automatic voter registration. When a person registers with the Division of Motor Vehicles, they also will be automatically registered to vote as an unaffiliated voter until they choose otherwise. "This modernizes voter registration," Fenberg said.
Senate Bill 232 codifies changes to the state's campaign finance enforcement system in the wake of last year's federal court ruling that declared Colorado's campaign finance enforcement system unconstitutional. Then-Secretary of State Wayne Williams adopted rules after that court case, which changed the process for filing campaign finance complaints.
However, Democrats did make one change through SB 232 that wasn't part of the court decision: to allow 180 days to file a campaign finance complaint, which Williams had cut to 90 days.
The four bills were sponsored solely by Democrats, and between the four, garnered only three votes total from two Republicans senators during their passage in the General Assembly.
A fifth bill signed by Polis Wednesday, Senate Bill 202, creates a process for voters with disabilities to use assistive technologies when casting a ballot. That measure won unanimous approval from the General Assembly.