DENVER (CBS4)– A Denver District Court judge is deciding whether Gov. Jared Polis exceeded his authority when he suspended an election law. Colorado Concern, a bi-partisan business coalition, and DU’s Chancellor Emeritus Dan Ritchie sued the Governor, saying his actions were illegal and unconstitutional.
The case centers on how signatures are collected for ballot measures. The state constitution states a circulator must witness the signature and sign an affidavit attesting to that for it to be presumed valid.
But, citing his powers under the Disaster Emergency Act, the Governor ordered the Secretary of State to write new rules allowing for signature gathering by mail and email, without a circulator verifying the signatures.
Deputy Attorney General Christopher Beall, who represented Polis at hearing Friday, argues you don’t have to be physically present to witness a signature.
“The court can find today, in 2020, we can achieve the intent of Article 5 by means of technology that wasn’t in existance in 1910. Your Honor is doing this right now,” said Beall.
But the plaintiffs’ attorney Chris Murray, with Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber, Schreck, says state laws have already interpreted the constitution to require in-person signatures. The Governor, he says, can’t suspend those laws unless it’s necessary for the state to cope with an emergency. Signature gathering, he says, doesn’t impact the state or it’s response to COVID-19.
“You can’t square the Executive Order with the Constitution and it’s in emergencies where exceptions get made that hurt everybody later, including some of the folks trying to put those initiatives on the ballot right now because it erodes the rule of law,” said Murray.
A total of 66 citizen initiatives, by liberal and conservative groups, are at various stages of making the ballot. Petitioners have had two years to gather about 125,000 signatures. The deadline to turn in signatures is Aug. 3.
Denver District Court Judge Robert McGahey said he would issue a ruling in the case by next week Wednesday. He noted that, whatever his ruling, the case is sure to be appealed.