Colorado signature distribution requirement upheld, Michigan redistricting measure faces legal challenge
Sometimes when voters approve a ballot measure, the legal challenges are just beginning. Over the past two years, we’ve followed about 100 ballot measure-related lawsuits. Here are two instances from last week:
A three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed an earlier district court ruling August 20 and upheld a distribution requirement for initiated constitutional amendment petitions in Colorado. Plaintiffs argued that the distribution requirement provisions violated the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment.
In 2016, Colorado voters approved Amendment 71—sometimes referred to as the Raise the Bar initiative—requiring initiative petitioners to spread out signature-gathering efforts across all of the state’s 35 senate districts. The measure also enacted a 55% supermajority requirement for any constitutional amendment other than those designed to only delete language.
ColoradoCareYes and the Coalition for Colorado Universal Health Care filed a lawsuit against the distribution provisions in 2017. A federal district court overturned the distribution requirement although it was left in place for 2018 measures while the case was under appeal.
The appeals court panel ruled 2-1 to reverse the U.S. District Court’s ruling, leaving the distribution requirement in place. The majority wrote that “[n]o equal protection problem exists if votes are cast in state legislative districts that were drawn based on Census population data.” The majority based its decision on Evenwel v. Abbott (2016), in which the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that a state or local government could draw legislative districts based on total population.
The Michigan Republican Party filed a lawsuit in federal court August 22 seeking to block Proposal 2, which transferred the power to draw the state’s congressional and legislative districts from the state legislature to a 13-member independent redistricting commission. Voters approved Proposal 2 in 2018 with 61% voting in favor of the constitutional amendment.
Proposal 2 would create a redistricting commission of 13 registered voters randomly selected by the Secretary of State—four each who self-identify as affiliated with the two major political parties and five who self-identify as unaffiliated with major political parties. It also established new redistricting criteria including geographically compact and contiguous districts of equal population and specified that redistricting shall not provide disproportionate advantage to political parties or candidates.
Michigan voters do not specify their political affiliation when registering to vote. Proposal 2 requires applicants for the redistricting commission to attest under oath regarding their partisan affiliation but does not require the state department to confirm individuals’ partisan affiliation.
Laura Cox, chairperson of the state Republican Party, said Proposal 2 violated the party’s freedom of association, arguing that the amendment prevented parties from selecting their own members to serve on the redistricting commission. The complaint also stated that the measure could allow Democrats to self-affiliate as Republicans “in an effort to alter the party’s selection process and weaken its representation on the commission by individuals who genuinely affiliate with MRP [Michigan Republican Party].”
Six states have enacted laws for independent redistricting commissions for congressional districts. In Arizona, California, Colorado, and Idaho, registered voters can select to affiliate with a political party on their voter registration forms. Like Michigan, Washington does not have a party-affiliation option on voter registrations. The Washington process involves legislative leaders of the two major parties each selecting a member of the redistricting commission, and the four leader-appointed members appointing a fifth member.
Learn more about the Colorado measure→
Learn more about the Michigan measure→