Editorial: An underhanded amendment and Polis’ hard veto choice

Estimated read time 6 min read

A bill strengthening and defending Colorado’s elections is at risk of being vetoed over a dirty amendment snuck on at the last minute.

The offending two-page amendment was carefully crafted to undermine the will of the voters should they speak in November changing our election laws. Worse, a lawmaker misrepresented the amendment to the public and to other lawmakers on the House floor before it was approved.

Jesse Paul for The Colorado Sun first uncovered the surprising amendment, reporting that it would act as a de facto ban of ranked-choice voting even if voters approve a ballot measure adopting the election system state-wide.

Gov. Jared Polis is facing mounting pressure to veto Senate Bill 210 over the amendment so as not to reward bad behavior. While we understand the temptation to strike down the misleading amendment and demand that at the very least lawmakers be open and honest with us when they are subverting direct democracy, we still urge Polis to sign the measure into law.

The rest of Senate Bill 210 was two years in the making, comprised of fixes large and small to the state’s election laws. Most of the fixes are matters of convenience and efficiency, but one in particular would defend Colorado’s election clerks from those attempting to meddle with the November election because they believe former President Donald Trump’s dangerous conspiracy theories.

Protecting our elections and our democracy from those who have swallowed Trump’s conspiracy theory hook, line and sinker is America’s number one concern heading into November.

In Park County and Custer County, the elected clerks have taken a stand against Trump’s election lies and now face pressure to surrender the keys to the voting machines to someone more willing to blindly follow the former president. S.B. 210 clarifies state law to shut down the loophole that Park and Custer county commissioners are attempting to use to oust duly elected and wholly independent election clerks.

“This is real. This is happening right now. We are trying to defend against this,” Carly Koppes, Weld County clerk and recorder, told The Denver Post. “It is absolutely unacceptable that people are trying to take our elections law Title 11 and try to manipulate it and twist it and turn it to give themselves elections authority that they don’t have.”

Koppes said she worked hard to include language in S.B. 210 shutting down the loophole before county commissioners can defund clerk’s offices and establish their own elections offices overseen by unelected and unaccountable Trump supporters.

Koppes said she did not request or help draft the amendment added at the last minute to 210, and the Boulder County Clerk, Molly Fitzpatrick, echoed that sentiment.

The Offending Amendment

Colorado voters could be asked in November if they would like the state to move to a complicated election system of ranked-choice voting for selecting candidates for statewide office.

But even if voters say “yes” to the major change in our elections, the amendment to S.B. 210 could prevent it from ever taking effect.

This is not because Colorado lawmakers joined five Republican-led states to pass an outright ban on ranked-choice voting this year. Such a ban would likely be overridden by a subsequent ballot initiative.

Instead, it was state Rep. Emily Sirota who concocted a clever roadblock to ranked-choice voting. Sirota introduced the amendment in the House with a brief one-minute description to lawmakers that did not include the words “ranked-choice voting” or any mention of election changes needing to be piloted in a dozen cities first.

The amendment would require 12 cities in Colorado to have already implemented rank-choice voting before the state can implement it. And not just any cities — 12 cities that check a variety of size and demographic boxes. Yes, two jurisdictions have already implemented ranked-choice voting, but the arbitrary and capricious threshold set in the amendment is clearly intended to keep the state from moving to ranked-choice voting.

Polis should write a formal letter when he signs the bill asking lawmakers to strip the language out of the bill, but given lawmakers’ ability to protect their own self-interests when it comes to election changes that might affect their re-election, we fear they won’t do the right thing even if the governor requests it.

Perhaps the best way to send a message to lawmakers about such antics, without punishing clerks for a transgression that wasn’t theirs, is to call lawmakers away from their summer break for a special session to strip out the amendment.

Ranked-choice voting is complex and hard to implement, but the goal is simple — preventing candidates from taking office with a minority of voter support when another candidate would have defeated them with a majority if voters had, had fewer choices. Creating a system with fewer choices clearly isn’t the answer to a healthy democracy, so we can see wisdom in ranked-choice voting.

But whether we support ranked-choice voting or not this November, we don’t support the Sirota amendment or the impunity with which lawmakers felt they could simply circumvent open and honest debate on the issue by slipping something into the bill.

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Updated June 6, 2024 at 12:49 p.m. Due to an editor’s error, an earlier version of this story said that Senate President Steve Fenberg and Sen. Byron Pelton helped draft the amendment blocking ranked-choice voting. They did not help draft the amendment although they were also sponsors of Senate Bill 210.

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