By Debi Brazzale, COLORADO NEWS AGENCY
“Put the people first” was the refrain heard from the Senate floor Friday among Republican lawmakers who argued against a proposal to reverse the order in which statewide ballot issues are presented to voters. The measure passed, thanks largely to majority Democrats.
Currently, ballot issues called citizens’ initiatives–which require petitioners to gather voters’ signatures–get top billing. Underneath those go ballot issues called referred measures, which are placed on the ballot by the legislature. Senate Bill 216, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Rollie Heath of Boulder would invert that order.
Heath said that he decided to sponsor the measure because referred measures that propose to change the state constitution are so difficult to get on the ballot in the first place that they get rigorous scrutiny–and infrequently survive the legislative process. Lawmakers must garner a two-thirds majority in both chambers before passing them on to voters, a tall task.
“To get a referred measure on the ballot, we know how tough that is,” said Heath. “I seriously doubt we’ll get any through this year.”
Yet, Republicans said the people deserve top billing over the General Assembly. Sen. Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, said the citizens’ efforts should be honored.
“The work that they have done is significant. It’s taken a whole lot of effort, a lot of money,” said Cadman. “Out of deference to the work and the will of the people, we ought to give them that place on the ballot.”
The GOP’s Sen. Kevin Lundberg, of Berthoud, defended the current ballot order as well, calling the proposed change, “a slap in the face.”
Lundberg also noted that citizens’ initiatives can be costly and therefore the bar is much higher for citizens than for lawmakers. He also said SB 216 sends the wrong signal.
“It does send a message to the voters that what they put on the ballot is less important than what we put on the ballot,” Lundberg said. “It sends a message that our ideas are more important than their ideas.”
Ballot order is a bone of contention for fear that “ballot fatigue” sets in as voters must work their way down a lengthy list of complicated issues. Participation is thought to drop off from one issue to the next.
“There is an edge to being first on a ballot. It may be minute, but if a ballot measure wins or loses by a few votes, the placement could mean the difference,” said Cadman. “The people deserve that edge.”
The measure now goes to the House for consideration. With three days left in the session, the measure must pass by the full house on Tuesday before a final vote on Wednesday.