Denver City Council Will Vote on Two More Election Proposals Tonight

Denver City Councilwoman Kendra Black has been looking at election issues.
Denver City Councilwoman Kendra Black has been looking at election issues. denvergov.org
On August 15, Denver City Council was slated to hold a public hearing and vote on a measure proposing that a specific percentage of the signatures required to get a citizens' initiative on the ballot be collected from each of the eleven council districts.

If it had passed — and Councilmember Kendra Black, who brought the proposal to council, says she had the votes — the proposal would have landed on the November 8 ballot, to be decided by Denver voters. But instead, Black decided to delay the hearing until November 14, because of misinformation that council needed time to clarify.

“It was turning into something that wasn't,” she says. “There was not enough opportunity to actually have a real conversation and correct the misinformation.”

On the morning of August 15, advocacy groups had issued alerts, urging members to call or write to council in opposition to the proposal. Among the most vocal voices was that of Owens Perkins, president of CleanSlateNow Action, who said the change would make the cost of pushing through a successful petition higher and shut out grassroots organizers.

“It's essentially putting a monetary criteria in there to make the ballot,” Perkins warned. “It will be just as easy for big money, well-funded initiatives, who spend millions of dollars on ballot initiatives.” Hundreds of people responded to his missive.

But Perkins's concerns and those of other groups don't hold up, according to Black. She plans to use the delay to engage the public and set the record straight on the proposal, which she says was designed to make the signature-gathering process more inclusive rather than more difficult.

The proposal came out of the work of the Ballot Access Modernization Committee, which Black chaired with Denver Clerk and Recorder Paul López. Black had been developing the idea for the committee since June 2021, and it was officially convened in January to examine how to improve the ballot measure process and increase election transparency for voters. The group met five times and city council discussed the group’s work nine times before the committee put forth four proposals, she notes.

The first includes a single-subject requirement for initiatives, updates ballot title settings and candidate timelines, and moves the fixes for referendum issues to an ordinance. It passed council on August 15 and will appear on the November 8 ballot.

Two other proposals are included in bills that have been approved for filing. One would update numbering, circulator training and compliance, referenda, the ballot title process details, and the ballot information booklet process; the other would require council to refer measures more than ninety days before elections. If Denver City Council approves them tonight, August 29, they will become ordinances once Mayor Michael Hancock signs them; neither will be referred to the ballot.

The fourth proposal was the signature change measure. The committee shared thoughts on the proposal at a May 19 meeting but did not come to a consensus. Black says that she took the proposal to council anyway because most members supported the idea.

“It was a very, very lengthy process, and everything was open to the public,” Black says. Even so, she notes, there was not much community feedback.

As an example of a situation when this proposal would make things more equitable, Black points to the citizens’ initiative to repeal the group living ordinance, which was defeated in the 2021 election. While that measure did achieve what would become the required threshold of 180 votes per district, it collected only 230 signatures from Council President Jamie Torres’s district compared to 2,172 from Black’s district. Black says she wanted to examine the signature requirement process to make sure all parts of the city are included in an issue.

But opponents argued that if a single measure failed to reach 180 signatures in one district, that would be a de facto veto, preventing the proposal from going to all Denver voters.

“There is no evidence that anything like that would happen,” Black counters. “Every council district has 65,000 people in it, and there would be no way to prevent people from signing a petition.”

Grassroots groups that opposed the measure argued that under its provisions, they would have to pay signature-collectors more or use more volunteers to verify signatures, since the city has no way to verify in real time which council district a signer lives in. But Black disputes this, too; she says every paper signature must be verified already, and this addition to that process would not be difficult.

And finally, opponents pointed to the irony of a bill that proposed changing the citizens' initiative process not going through that process itself.

“There is no process that was circumvented,” Black responds. “I very firmly believe in process, and we did have a process. ... I would never have moved forward with this had not most of the councilmembers told me they supported it.”
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Catie Cheshire is a staff writer at Westword. After getting her undergraduate degree at Regis University, she went to Arizona State University for a master's degree. She missed everything about Denver -- from the less-intense sun to the food, the scenery and even the bus system. Now she's reunited with Denver and writing news for Westword.
Contact: Catie Cheshire