Libertarian Party of Colorado Ballot Access History

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Ballot Access in Colorado

By David Aitken

This process was a multi year task that began in the early 1990’s with the formation of a group called the Colorado Coalition for Fair and Open Elections (COCOFOE). At the time, there were the two major parties and several Qualified Political Organizations (QPO). QPO’s were allowed under the Secretary of State’s rules as a result of an earlier lawsuit (1980’s) that, I think, went to the US Supreme Court as a First Amendment issue and said that if D’s and R’s could affiliate, anyone else should be allowed to, too. Libertarian lawyer Paul Grant might have more details.

At any rate, the QPO rules said that we could be a QPO if we filed organizational papers (bylaws) with the Secretary of State and ran at least one candidate for partisan office every two years. Otherwise, we would lose our ability to register as a Libertarian. If you were something other than D or R, you had to petition your way onto the ballot.

COCOFOE started with the encouragement of Richard Winger, editor of Ballot Access News, and included people from all points of the political spectrum. Libertarians, Greens, Socialists, Constitutionalists, Labor, you name it. There were probably 8 or 10 different groups represented. Over the course of a year or two, we developed a laundry list of changes we wanted in the ballot access laws.

In 1994, Libertarians tried to run one candidate for State Senate, Judd Ptak. The signature requirements at that time were 1,000 for State Senate (there are 35 seats) and 500 for US Congress (6 seats). Ptak collected 1256 signatures, of which more than 256 were invalid, thus disqualifying him for the State Senate seat, but enough were valid to let him run for US Congress. Because Ptak was our only candidate, if he did not get on the ballot, we would lose our First Amendment right to affiliate with the party of our choice.

Ptak sued Meyer (Secretary of State), and Paul Grant, a 3rd year law student and registered Libertarian, took the case to federal court pro bono even though he did not live in Judd’s district because his (Grant’s) right to register was at stake also. A preliminary hearing was held, at which Grant pointed out to the federal court three arguments: 1) we would lose our First Amendment right to associate if Ptak was not put back on the ballot; 2) the signature requirements for State Senate were twice those required for a US Congressional race even though a State Senate district was 1/6th the size of a US Congressional district; and 3) Ptak collected enough valid signatures to qualify for a US Congressional race. The judge granted a preliminary injunction putting Judd back on the ballot and telling the state to fix the ballot access laws.

Next year, Ron Tupa, a Democratic state representative from Boulder (the People’s Republic), carried a bill (HB95-1022) to fix the ballot access laws. It was his idea, I think, although Green Party members of COCOFOE may have asked him to. The federal courts, because of the Ptak lawsuit, were pressuring the state to fix this problem. The bill changed the signature requirements to 2 percent of the number of votes cast in the previous election in that district with a maximum of 400 for state representative, 600 for state senate, 800 for US Congress, and 1000 for statewide races. We also were able to fix a number of other problems like adding a cure period and requiring the Secretary of State to meet certain deadlines for reporting petition status. All of the member parties in COCOFOE participated in the hearings at the state capitol on this bill. It was very important for state legislators to see that it had broad support from all across the political spectrum. It was also important, I think, that Ron Tupa (the bill sponsor) was a member of the House State Affairs Committee, where the bill was heard. The bill eventually passed and was signed by the governor.

In 1998, Ron Tupa decided to carry a Minor Party Bill (HB98-1110) which would create minor political parties. At that time, and currently, you become a major political party when your gubernatorial candidate polls 10 percent or more. Everything else was sort of in limbo. The major people involved with this bill were Tupa, who was still a member of the House State Affairs Committee, and Penn Pfiffner, a Republican who was also a member of the same committee and is a former chair of the Colorado Libertarian Party. As introduced, the bill required groups who wanted to become minor parties to circulate a statewide petition and collect 10,000 signatures. None of us in COCOFOE were thrilled with the petitioning requirements, but we felt it was a great vehicle to get some of the other reforms we wanted, so David Aitken drafted the changes we wanted and took them to Pfiffner, a personal friend, several weeks before the bill would be heard in committee and asked him to present them as an amendment to the bill. He agreed to do so.

The changes we asked for were to allow groups to qualify as a minor party if they met one of three conditions in lieu of the petitioning requirement. The conditions were 1) have 1,000 or more registered voters affiliated with the party; 2) a partisan candidate receiving 1 percent or more in a statewide race; 3) 10 or more district partisan candidates receiving more than 2 percent. The State Affairs committee adopted the amendment but removed the third option. The larger parties who were members of COCOFOE supported this bill; the smaller ones did not because most of them had no chance of qualifying. As with the first ballot access bill, members of all parties who supported the bill testified before the House committee. The broad support was necessary to show the committee that it was not just for one party. The bill passed through the committee and eventually became law. Pfiffner spent considerable time lobbying fellow Republicans to vote for the bill because both houses of the legislature were controlled by them.

It was, in the author’s opinion, critical to have not only the support of several minor parties, but also to have the key players in the right place at the right time. House State Affairs Committee members Tupa and Pfiffner were crucial to the bill’s success as were their relationships with members of COCOFOE. Neither COCOFOE members nor the State of Colorado incurred any significant costs in passing either of the ballot access bills.

The 1998 minor party bill is one of the most liberal ballot access laws in the United States. There are currently (2002) 5 minor parties in Colorado: Libertarian, Green, Reform, Natural Law, and American Constitution, none of which used the petitioning requirement to become a minor party. All are members of a new group, the Colorado Coalition of Independent Political Parties and continue to work together on areas of mutual concern. One of the changes we would like to see is to make becoming a major party optional, which would allow us to avoid the infrastructure burdens until we have the membership to support precinct organizations and primaries.

May, 2008. Only three minor parties now exist in Colorado, Libertarian, Green, and American Constitution Party. Libertarians have 7092 registered voters (4/08), Greens have 4802, and ACP has 491. (ACP qualifies by the 1% in a statewide race rule.)