"Think before you ink" may sound like a slogan discouraging people from getting a tattoo, but it's a campaign asking Coloradans to consider a decision that's equally as permanent.
This summer there are about 140 ballot initiatives floating around on clipboards in the parking lots of big-box stores around the state. While many are well-intentioned, some are concerned about the research and intent behind them. Ron Teck, intergovernmental operations officer for El Paso County, has observed the impact of citizen initiatives for several years.
"Unfortunately, a lot of voters get caught up in the emotion of an issue," explains Teck. "Proponents will get a signature that promises to do one thing, when in reality it might do that one thing and create a whole lot of other havoc."
Once initiatives become part of the state Constitution, Teck says it's nearly impossible for the legislature to then go in and "clean up" the measures. The number of signatures required to place a citizen initiative on the ballot in Colorado is equal to five percent of the votes cast for the office of Secretary of State in the prior election. This year, that amounts to just over 86,000.
This year there are initiatives that could impact fracking, education, and others crucial issues. Teck is most concerned about a measure called the Doctrine of Public Trust. He says while supporters argue the initiative proposes more citizen control over the water supply, it could have a negative impact.
"It would create absolute havoc in our state's economy," says Teck, "but it sounds very nice to say, 'You know, the people of the state should have some say in the control of the water,' without really understanding the ramifications of it."
According to Teck, prior initiatives that ultimately had negative consequences include the 1992 Taxpayer's Bill of Rights and the 1982 tax assessment that now makes business property owners pay up to three times as much as their residential counterparts.
More information on the citizen's initiative process can be found below.
What do the legalization of marijuana (2012 - approved) and providing for a severance tax on certain oil and natural gas products (1952 + defeated) have in common? Both were citizen initiatives.
In 1910, the age of populism was alive and well in Colorado. A constitutional referendum was placed on the ballot by the legislature to provide authority for the citizen initiative and referendum process. It was approved by votes and two years later, Colorado voters found 21 initiatives on their ballot plus 12 referenda for a total of 33 issues to decide.
Over the years, the requirements for a citizen's initiative have essentially remained the same with some changes along the way. To place an initiative on today's ballot, a number of steps are needed as follows:
1. Draft the language of the proposal.
2. Submit the proposal to the Legislative Council staff so that a review and comment meeting may be scheduled within 14 days. The purpose of the review is to ensure that the measure accomplishes the proponents' intent. A tracking number is assigned to the proposal.
3. Proponents then have the opportunity to amend the proposal based on some or all of the comments made by the Legislative Council staff and the office of Legislative Legal Services.
4. If substantial amendments are made to the initiative beyond the comments from the review, proponents must submit a new draft and have a new hearing scheduled.
5. After review and comment and any amendments are completed, the proponents submit the initiative to the Secretary of State's office.
6. A hearing is scheduled before the Title Board which is made up of designated officials from Legislative Council, the Attorney General's office and the Secretary of State. The purpose of the Title Board is to write the Ballot Title for the proposed initiative that contains the major provisions of the proposal. This text is what voters will see on their ballot.
7. Colorado law states that the ballot title: · Must be brief, · Cannot conflict with another ballot title selected for a similar petition for the same election, · Must be in the form of a question that can be answered · "yes" in favor of the proposal, or · "no" to vote against the proposal, · Must clearly state the principle provisions of the initiative.
8. The proposal must be single subject. The text of the measure must contain one subject with one distinct purpose.
9. Petition format must be prepared and submitted to the Secretary of State for approval.
10. Petitions may be circulated to gather signatures after the petition format has been approved.
11. 86,105 valid signatures from registered voters are required to qualify the proposed initiative for the 2014 ballot.
12. The signed petitions must be filed with the Secretary of State within six months of the date of the final language set by the Title Board OR no later than 3 months before the General Election.
13. Within 30 days of the signed petitions being turned in, the Secretary of State must announce whether the valid number of signatures was submitted.
14. The campaign begins if the signature requirement is met.
15. The voters make the final decision with their vote.
In 2014, over 100 proposed initiatives have been submitted to Legislative Council. Many of them will fall by the wayside. At this writing, one proposal has been certified with numerous other proposals at various stages in the process.