Gov. Polis Sued By Group With Representatives From Both Parties Over Signature Gathering Executive Order

DENVER (CBS4) – Some Democratic and Republican heavy-hitters are suing Gov. Jared Polis. They say he overstepped his authority when he issued an executive order that allows people who are trying to get a measure on the November ballot to gather signatures by mail and email.

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University of Denver’s Chancellor Emeritus Dan Ritchie is the plaintiff in the case. He is joined by Colorado Concern, a group of business CEO’s from across the state and across the political spectrum. They say the governor has broad authority during an emergency, but it doesn’t include changing the constitution.

Colorado’s constitution requires circulators to be in the physical presence of the person who is signing the petition.

The powerhouse law firm of Brownstein, Farber, Hyatt, Schreck is representing the plaintiffs. Chris Murray and Sarah Mercer are among the attorneys. He’s a Republican. She’s a Democrat. They say they don’t agree on much, but they do agree that the constitutional provision regarding in-person signature gathering is clear.

“So that the person who is coming up to you with that clipboard can look somebody else in the eye and say ‘I know that every single signature I got came from a real human being who told me they’re from Colorado, they’re eligible to vote and they wanted to support this measure,’” said Murray.

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Polis says he believes he has met the constitutional provisions in light of the public health emergency. He says he suspended the requirement for in-person signature gathering, even though he doesn’t like many of the proposed initiatives, to protect democracy.

“It’s about the right of the people to petition to put something on the ballot. And because there is a public health emergency. It makes the normal petitioning gathering next to impossible,” Polis said.

“Our clients are interested in protecting democracy also,” said Mercer. But, she says, coronavirus has not prevented people from gathering signatures,.

“The places where people tend to gather signatures — in front of grocery stores, in parks — are places where people have also been able to go even under the lockdown order. There’s a lot of interest in interfering and creating chaos in our elections, and opening up any process of our electoral system that means where we can’t really secure that voter information is something we really need to be careful of.”

Election integrity aside, Murray says, the governor’s order is unconstitutional.

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“We’ve had rules on petitions in this state for a long time. They come right out of constitution, you can’t change that without a vote of the people even in an emergency.”

Under the executive order, Secretary of State Jenna Griswold, who is also named in the lawsuit, has until June 1 to promulgate the new rules regarding signature gathering by mail and email.

A hearing in the case is set for Friday.

So far, two citizen initiatives have qualified for the November ballot. Sixty-six others are at different points in the process.