Sweeping overhaul of Colorado elections gets initial nod for ballot from state Title Board


A proposal backed by one of Colorado’s wealthiest political donors to dramatically overhaul how the state conducts its elections cleared its first hurdle before a little-known panel of public officials on Wednesday.

On a 2-1 vote, the state’s Initiative Title Setting Review Board found that Initiative 117, backed by Colorado multimillionaire and former DaVita CEO Kent Thiry, meets a constitutional requirement for ballot measures to address a single subject, and approved a ballot title for the measure. Commonly known as the Title Board, the panel consists of representatives designated by the Colorado secretary of state, attorney general and the General Assembly’s Office of Legislative Legal Services.

The proposed constitutional amendment, dubbed the “Colorado Equal Election Access Amendment” by proponents, would transform primary and general elections for U.S. senator, U.S. representative, governor, three other statewide offices and members of the state Legislature.

Party primary elections and the caucus and assembly process would be abolished in favor of “all-candidate primary elections,” where all candidates, regardless of party affiliation, would appear on the same ballot. Candidates would have to petition onto the primary ballot through signature-gathering campaigns. The four candidates receiving the highest number of votes in the primary would advance to the general election.

The general election would be decided by ranked-choice voting, also known as instant-runoff voting, a system in which voters rank the candidates in order of preference. If no candidate receives a majority of first-choice votes, the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated, and those ballots’ second-choice votes are tallied. The process is repeated until one candidate receives a majority.

The top-four primary and ranked-choice voting system proposed by Initiative 117 closely resembles the one adopted by Alaska voters in 2020 and used for the first time in that state’s 2022 election. Proponents credited the system with helping to elect Democratic U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola, the first Democrat to represent the state in Congress in 50 years, as well as with moderate Republican Lisa Murkowski’s defeat of a more conservative challenger.

Thiry told The Colorado Sun last year that his proposal “is about bringing voice and choice back to the people.” He was represented in Wednesday’s Title Board hearing by attorneys from Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, the powerful Denver-based law and lobbying firm.

Initiative 117 is one of more than a dozen different versions of Thiry’s proposal filed before the Title Board. Three previous versions of the amendment were rejected in December as noncompliant with the state constitution’s so-called single-subject requirement, which requires that amendments put before voters “concern only one subject and one distinct purpose.”

Other versions of the amendment, including several that aim to apply the ranked-choice voting system to presidential elections in Colorado, were due to be considered by the Title Board when it resumed its hearing on Thursday.

Vacancy committees on chopping block

As approved by the board, Initiative 117 would also eliminate the Colorado General Assembly’s vacancy committee system, through which political parties choose who will fill vacant seats by a vote of local party members, often with only a few dozen people participating.

The amendment is the latest in a series of ballot measures Thiry has backed to reform Colorado’s election laws. In 2016, voters approved two measures he sponsored to reestablish presidential primary elections and to allow unaffiliated voters to participate in primary elections. Two years later, he successfully backed a pair of anti-gerrymandering amendments that established independent, nonpartisan commissions to oversee Colorado’s redistricting processes for Congress and the state Legislature.

To become part of the Colorado Constitution, proposed amendments must be approved by 55% of Colorado voters.

This story first appeared at Colorado Newsline. Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a national nonprofit news organization. Colorado Newsline is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, independent source of online news.

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