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A proponent of Colorado's paid family and parental leave ballot measure hoists a box full of signatures onto a cart in Denver on Friday, July 31, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Colorado voters appear poised to decide as many as nine major issues on the November ballot — but far fewer than initially expected after the coronavirus made it difficult to qualify.

So far, seven measures are set for the ballot. And the organizers behind four more initiatives said they submitted more than the 124,632 valid voter signatures needed to secure a place on the ballot ahead of Monday’s deadline.

But other prominent campaigns didn’t reach the finish line, including five related to oil and gas and a constitutional overhaul of the state’s tax system. Two of them were voluntarily removed and the others said it was too difficult to get voters to sign petitions amid a public health crisis.

“We announced (our effort) in March, two weeks later the pandemic hit,” said Scott Wasserman, the president of the Bell Policy Center and a leading proponent of Initiative 271 measure on taxes, which failed to qualify. “For me, it’s a tragedy of timing.”

Colorado is one of the easiest states in the nation for citizen-led initiatives to change state law, and ahead of the election advocates drafted more than 300 different proposals for ballot questions. 

But the signature threshold increased significantly from the prior election and the bar for constitutional measures is more difficult, requiring 2% of registered voters in each state Senate district to consent to the ballot question. Most organizations pay hundreds of thousands to hire paid signature gatherers in order to collect support.

The pandemic put the entire enterprise in limbo, and Gov. Jared Polis signed an executive order allowing issue campaigns to collect signatures via mail and email. But critics, mainly from the business community, filed a lawsuit challenging the move. The Colorado Supreme Court sided with them.

“I would always push the envelope for the right of the people to petition the government,” Polis said. “And I regret that that right is lessened during the pandemic because of the court’s decision.”

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis speaks to reporters at the governor’s mansion in downtown Denver on Thursday, July 9, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Certainly many campaigns struggled with signature collection because they were forced to ask people in-person to back their measures.

“The biggest challenge was to get the signatures without getting the COVID-19,” said the Rev. Timothy Tyler, who worked on a campaign pushing to ask voters to approve a paid family and parental leave program in Colorado.

The Secretary of State’s Office is evaluating whether a handful of campaigns qualified, but here’s where the ballot stands now:


The General Assembly referred three questions to the November ballot. 

One asks voters to repeal Colorado’s Gallagher Amendment, which aims to keep residential property taxes low but has left fire departments and schools with limited funding. Another seeks to create a uniform nicotine tax — which for the first time would enforce a tax on vaping products — and raise the taxes on cigarettes to $2.64 in July 2027 from 84 cents now. And the third regarding the use of a charitable gaming license.

Four other citizen-led initiatives that began before the pandemic also obtained the needed signatures to qualify.

The measures would:

Under review

Four campaigns submitted petitions ahead of the deadline and now await review by the state about whether they met the legal threshold to qualify.

The measures would:

Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage....

John Frank is a former Colorado Sun staff writer. He left the publication in January 2021.