Supreme Court to review Colorado ballot-petition rules

Monday, February 23, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court, setting the stage for a significant ruling for ballot initiatives, today agreed to review requirements Colorado once imposed on petitioning for such measures.

The court voted to review lower courts’ rulings that said the Colorado regulations, which supporters claim are aimed at reducing the likelihood of fraud, violated free speech and could not be enforced.

The justices left intact requirements that had been upheld by the courts—limiting petition drives to six months and banning persons under 18 from collecting petition signatures.

More than half the states authorize voter-initiated ballot measures. The court’s eventual ruling, expected sometime in 1999, could contain important guidelines for those states.

In Nebraska, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in October ruled that a state law requiring petition circulators be registered voters was unconstitutional. The court ruled that the law violated the First Amendment because it restricted political speech.

Colorado since 1913 has allowed voters to place certain initiatives on the state ballot. To get a measure on the ballot, supporters must collect the signatures of at least 5 percent of the total votes cast in the most recent secretary of state election.

The Legislature in 1994 sought to limit the possibility of fraud and to enhance public confidence in the initiative process by requiring several additional requirements:

  • Circulators of ballot-initiative petitions had to be registered with the state and were required to display identification badges disclosing whether they were paid or volunteer workers.
  • Supporters of any initiative had to file monthly reports with the secretary of state and disclose the names and addresses of all petition circulators.

A group of state residents and a public interest group, the American Constitutional Law Foundation, sued to challenge the requirements. U.S. district court Judge Richard Matsch struck down three of the four requirements, and when state officials appealed, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the fourth as well.

“A state has a strong, often compelling, interest in preserving the integrity of its electoral system,” the appeals court said. But it added that Colorado had failed to justify the invalidated requirements.

The cases are Buckley vs. American Constitutional Law Foundation and American Constitutional Law Foundation vs. Buckley.