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Colorado Supreme Court allows open primary, ranked-choice voting to move forward

Posted at 1:01 PM, Jun 05, 2024

DENVER — The Colorado Supreme Court ruled last week that an open primary and ranked-choice voting initiative can move forward to the signature gathering process, making it likely to appear on the November ballot.

At the same time, a last-minute amendment by state lawmakers in the 2024 session now threatens the future of ranked-choice voting altogether, prompting calls for a veto from Governor Jared Polis.

Regardless, Colorado Voters First, the group behind the RCV initiative, is pushing forward and hosting a signature gathering campaign kickoffon June 10.

Open primaries and ranked-choice voting (RCV) would completely overhaul the way Colorado conducts its elections. An open primary places all candidates for an office onto one ballot regardless of party affiliation. The top four vote-getters then move onto the general election where voters can rank them in order of preference.

Read the KOAA deep dive into the open primary and ranked-choice voting movement and campaign against it at this link.

A deep dive into the ranked-choice voting movement and campaign against it

“We are pleased that the Supreme Court upheld the Title Board’s decision and rejected the arguments from party insiders," said Curtis Hubbard, a spokesman for Colorado Voters First. "We are moving full-speed ahead to make sure that Colorado voters this fall can send the message that elections belong to the people — not to politicians.”

The group has until August 5 to collect 124,000 valid signatures to officially make it onto the November ballot. The well-funded initiative is expected to clear that hurdle.

However, concerns remain about the future of open primaries and RCV in Colorado due to a last-minute amendment on an election bill this past legislative session.

SB-210, passed in the final days of the legislative session, could indefinitely delay the implementation of ranked-choice voting, advocates said. The last-minute amendment was added by Democratic Rep. Emily Sirota.

House Democrats have not returned a request for comment.

RCV for Colorado, another group promoting ranked-choice voting, is urging Governor Polis to veto the bill, asking voters to call his office.

“In the last few days of the legislative session, a poison-pill clause was snuck into a routine elections bill. There was no public comment and it got less than 3 minutes of discussion time in the general assembly,” said RCV in Colorado in a Wednesday email blast. “The clause is an indefinite delay to using Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) in state and federal elections, even if voters decide to adopt RCV in November.”

The amendment essentially requires the secretary of state to conduct and certify a trial run in 12 different municipalities of varying populations before being able to implement RCV statewide.

The amendment also dictates different requirements for the populations of the trial runs including a threshold of non-white voters and voters who speak English “less than very well” as defined by the US Census Bureau American Community Survey.

Some critics of open primaries and RCV argue that the process is confusing and will disproportionately affect people of color and non-native English speakers.

But some RCV proponents have said those critiques are an insult to those groups of people.

“These amendments passed at the last minute without any debate are a gross abuse of power and an assault on the citizens' initiative process,” said former Colorado House Speaker Terrance Carroll in a statement. Carroll is now a senior fellow with FairVote, an RCV advocate group, and is the only African-American to serve as Speaker of the Colorado House.

“Most cynically, this midnight hour hijacking of the legislative process was done under the ruse of protecting Black and Brown voters but in reality its sole purpose was the furtherance of self-serving partisan goals,” added Carroll. “A court will not allow this assault on the initiative process to stand, and the Governor shouldn’t allow it either.”

Polis has until Friday to veto the bill, 30 days after the session ended. But other groups, like county clerks, want the bill signed since it offers many other election updates outside of RCV, according to Colorado Politics.

The Colorado County Clerks Association did not return a request for comment. Governor Polis’ office did not return a request for comment.

Other supporters of ranked-choice voting and open primaries also issued statements, criticizing the legislative attempt to delay RCV if voters approve the ballot measure in November.

“These last-minute antics are what voters hate about politics,” said Amber McReynolds in a statement. “Communities across Colorado have already approved and used ranked-choice voting in elections, and our fantastic clerks have systems in place to run and audit those contests.”

McReynolds is an unaffiliated voter, proponent of the RCV initiative, and former Director of Elections for the City and County of Denver.

Nick Troiano, executive director for Unite America, called the amendment a “brazen attempt to thwart the will of the voters.”

Denver-based Unite America is a national organization with a focus on replacing party primaries with all-candidate primaries across the US.

Email Senior Reporter Brett Forrest at Follow @brettforrestTVon X and Brett Forrest News on Facebook.

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