Gov. Jared Polis on Friday signed an executive order that will allow signatures for ballot initiatives to be gathered by email and mail to ensure Coloradans’ democratic rights don’t become another pandemic casualty.
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The executive order suspended several laws and will prompt the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office to develop rules to allow for signature gathering by email and mail.
Until now, signatures were required to have been gathered in face-to-face interactions, typically outside grocery stores, at farmer’s markets and in parks, but coronavirus has made doing so nearly impossible and also likely unsafe.
The rules aren’t expected to be finalized until early June. Signatures can’t be gathered by email and mail until the rules are finalized.
There are a number of statewide initiatives that are attempting to gather signatures to make the November ballot. Those include ones seeking to create a paid family and medical leave program, make Election Day a state holiday, draft a new criminal record expungement process for convicts and reduce the state’s income tax rate.
To make the statewide ballot in November, proponents of an initiative must collect about 124,000 signatures from registered voters by Aug. 3.
Polis, a Democrat, has been eyeing changes to the signature-gathering process for weeks, but has refused to provide details on his plans. The executive order, which wasn’t revealed until Saturday morning, was a surprise.
“This is a challenging time for Colorado, but we must not sacrifice our democracy and the right of citizens to petition due to the pandemic. Protecting our democracy, access to the ballot and making sure citizens can qualify ballot measures and can qualify as candidates to run for office during this time is critical,” Polis said in a written statement.
The Secretary of State’s Office said the goal is to make sure signature gathering can continue without putting people’s safety at risk.
“We took the time we needed to speak with stakeholders to make sure that we got this right,” Jacki Cooper Melmed, Polis’ chief legal counsel, said in an interview. “… We needed to get it done far enough in advance of the deadline (to turn in signatures) so that we could basically ensure access to the ballot this year.”
Cooper Melmed said the governor’s office consulted with the Secretary of State’s Office and county clerks on the language in the executive order. She said she’s confident that the processes drafted by Secretary of State Jena Griswold will prevent fraud and ensure the integrity of elections.
There will likely be some sort of draft form that will be used for signatures submitted by email and mail. Gathering signatures will not be as simple as asking people to click a box on a webpage, she said.
“The Secretary of State’s Office knows what it’s doing and how to guard against (fraud),” Cooper Melmed said. “We believe that the secretary of state will set up a process that guards against fraud like all of our other processes.”
Two questions are already on the statewide 2020 ballot. One asks voters to reintroduce wolves on the Western Slope and the other requires voters to be a U.S. citizen.
The executive order only affects ballot issues.