Whether or not Colorado ballot campaigns will be allowed to collect petition signatures by mail and email remains an open question, and may reach multiple courts before it’s settled.
On Friday morning in Denver District Court, Judge Robert McGahey heard arguments in a legal challenge by a coalition of business groups to Gov. Jared Polis’s recent order to allow petitioners to loosen rules for ballot petitioners. He won’t rule until at least Wednesday, he said. That likely won’t be the final word on the matter.
“I am a speedbump on the road to justice. Whatever order I enter, no matter what that order is, it’s going to make one side or the other in this case unhappy, or it’s likely to,” McGahey said. “And what that means is that whatever order I enter is undoubtedly going to be appealed.”
Wherever this case is decided, the outcome will carry huge consequences. The governor’s order was a lifeline to ballot campaigns that faced the potentially insurmountable challenge of having to collect more than 100,000 in-person signatures each, while many are pent up in their homes and public events are canceled.
The final ruling in this case may determine whether Coloradans this November vote on proposals to provide paid family and medical leave to workers statewide, restrict abortion access and overhaul the state’s income tax code, among other measures.
The governor’s opponents believe he exceeded his authority by relaxing petitioning guidelines.
“He may not suspend substantive law and replace it with his own substantive law,” attorney Chris Murray told the judge. Murray is representing Dan Ritchie, who filed the suit and is a board member of the business group Colorado Concern.
Deputy Attorney General Christopher Beall, arguing on the governor’s behalf, said it’s not accurate that the governor does not replace existing laws, noting that he does so routinely in executive orders.
“There’s nothing in the executive order that is in conflict with, does violence to, the constitution,” he said, laying out what he said is a standard practice: “Governor deals with the emergency, governor takes action — does so quickly — (and) suspends statutes that hinder the ability of the state to deal with the disaster.”
Friday’s hearing took place by video call, and McGahey, from his home in Denver, noted the novelty of that: “John Lennon was right when he said ‘strange days indeed.’”
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