Personhood amendment backers consider suing over ballot-petition procedures, too

On Tuesday, we told you about a lawsuit over ballot-petition rules filed by attorney David Lane on behalf of advocates as varied as the Independence Institute's Jon Caldara and SAFER's Mason Tvert.

It's possible the group of plaintiffs could grow even more ideologically diverse. Gualberto Garcia Jones, director of Personhood Colorado, which is backing a new personhood amendment all but certain to reach the November 2010 ballot, notes that he was asked to be part of the suit.

At the time, Garcia Jones was too busy overseeing the gathering of signatures for the personhood initiative to even read the document. Now, however, he said his group is likely to either join this effort or file a separate lawsuit over rules involving notaries that he sees as responsible for Personhood Colorado initially falling short of the required signature threshold.

To get the amendment before November voters, the pro-personhood forces needed to come up with 76,047 valid signatures -- and they handed in 79,000-plus even though their deadline was moved up at the last minute. However, so many of the scrawls were invalidated by the Secretary of State's Office that they wound up 15,690 short.

To make sure that doesn't happen again, volunteers returned to the streets, gathering another 46,721 signatures -- and Garcia Jones says "that number will probably go up. They were pouring in so quickly at the end that we weren't able to count them all." Last time around, he notes there was a "20 percent error rate, and it shouldn't be that high this time."

Why not? According to Garcia Jones, a third of the invalidated signatures came as a result of what he calls "an obscure change in the notary law."

House Bill 1326, the petition law being targeted by the aforementioned lawsuit, also tweaked notary rules, Garcia Jones points out. "Notaries have traditionally been able to identify the circulator by personal knowledge. But HB-1326 changed that. Personal I.D. or 'personally known' no longer works for ballot initiatives, and most of the notaries didn't know that. Even the person at the Secretary of State's Office in charge of notaries didn't know it affected the way it was supposed to be done. Most of the notaries weren't even supporters. They were just people who work at banks. So this is really an issue with the state itself."

In an interview about the suit, Tvert didn't mention the notary issue. He was focused more on rules restricting the ability of groups to pay collectors per signature and prohibiting people from out of state from gathering them. Even though Colorado Personhood's collectors were all volunteers, Garcia Jones says he concurs with Tvert's objections in these areas.

"Our decision to go with all volunteers was conditioned in part by that," he says, "and it really did make it a lot harder. It really restricts the constitutional right to put things on the ballot through the initiative process. We wouldn't have to make the same argument the other plaintiffs made, but I agree with it on principle."

With that in mind, Colorado Personhood could ask a judge to allow the organization to join the suit or choose to go it alone. In the meantime, though, Garcia Jones and his supporters are waiting for Secretary of State personnel to count all the extra signatures just turned in. They've got ten days to do so, and Garcia Jones says, "I kind of feel bad for them. I don't think they were expecting so many."

Then again, Colorado Personhood might have hit the mark the first time had other problems not cropped up.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts