Colorado Ballot Initiatives Primer & Tracker 

The process to get measures onto the Colorado ballot can be complicated. This piece is meant to explain how the process works. 

The Types of Ballot Measures

There are two different types of ballot measures: referred initiatives and citizen initiatives. Within those categories, initiatives can either be statutory or constitutional, which means they are either laws or language amended into the state Constitution. Each type of ballot measure has important differences:  

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Constitutional Measures

These measures amend the state’s constitution. If enacted, they can only be changed by subsequent constitutional amendments. There is a higher set of standards for these measures: They need 55 percent of the vote to pass. And if they are citizen initiatives, organizers must get voter signatures from every state Senate district to get on the ballot.

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Statutory Measures

These measures propose changing state law and can be amended by future legislatures without going back to the ballot. These measures need only a simple majority to pass and the number of signatures can be derived from anywhere in the measures: They need 55 percent of the vote to pass. And if they are citizen initiatives, organizers must get voter signatures from every state Senate district to get on the ballot.

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Referred Initiative

The Colorado General Assembly has the power to vote to refer ballot questions to votersA statutory measure needs majority support of both the House and the Senate to get on the ballot, while a constitutional measure needs two-thirds of each chamber to vote in support. The governor does not need to approve the measures for them to go to the ballot, and there is no need to collect signatures for referred measures. Once on the ballot, referred measures are denoted by letters, such as Proposition G or Amendment CC. 

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Citizen Initiative

These are measures that any resident of Colorado can bring forward. They must go through processes laid out by the Secretary of State that will be described in greater detail below. They can be identified on the ballot by numbers, such as Proposition 100 or Amendment 28.

Constitutional measures can, and often do, contain statutory language, so that the law can conform to the changes in the constitution.  For example, an initiative could amend the constitution so that income is not all taxed at the same rate, as is currently the case in Colorado. This measure could also include statutory language determining what the future rates should be. That measure would still be subject to the constitutional 55 percent requirement for passage. Constitutional measures can be subject to the majority voting threshold, however, if the measure is only deleting from the constitution, and not adding language to it. 

Citizen Initiative Process

The process for a citizen initiative starts with filing a measure and going to a review and comment hearing lead by the non-partisan legislative analysts from the Legislative Council Staff and the Office of Legislative Legal Services. Once that has ended, then the Title Board hears the measure to ensure it has one subject, and then sets the title that all voters see on their ballot. Finally, the proponents of the initiative then must collect signatures to officially qualify for the ballot. Let’s dig into each of these a little further: 

Review and Comment Hearing

After filing a measure with Legislative Council Staff, the law requires that all measures go through a review and comment hearing. During these advisory hearings, non-partisan staff help the measure’s proponents understand the policy and legal implications of their measuresLegislative Council Staff and Office of Legislative Legal Services ask questions designed to better understand the intent of the measure and whether the legal language in the measure matches the intent. After this hearing, measures can be edited and revised by the proponents to reflect the advice before they are filed with the Secretary of State’s Office. 

Title Board

The Title Board is made up of a representative from the Secretary of State’s Office, the Office of the Attorney General, and the non-partisan Office of Legislative Legal Services. The Title Board has two roles: to determine whether a citizen initiative has a single subject and to write the title of the measure that appears on the ballot. Anyone can submit a motion for a rehearing from the Title Board if they do not agree with the board’s ruling on single subject or how the title is written. After the rehearing, the decision of the Title Board can be appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court.

Signature Gathering

Once a title has been set by the Title Board, the Secretary of State approves petitions so that proponents of the initiative can start gathering signatures to qualify for the ballot. A petition has a six-month window for signatures to be collected. Paid or volunteer signature gatherers are acceptable under Colorado law. Estimates for paid signatures can run up to $2 million, giving campaigns with full coffers a leg up on qualifying for the ballot. The number of signatures necessary depends on whether a measure is statutory or constitutional.

  • Statutory: A measure needs 5 percent of all votes in the last Secretary of State election. For 2023 and 2024, that number is 124,238.
  • Constitutional: A measure needs 2 percent of all registered voters in all 35 state senate districts. 

After signatures are turned in, the Secretary of State has 30 days to verify the signatures, and if the signatures are valid, the measure is placed on the ballot. 

Recent Constitutional Changes to the Ballot Process

1994: Referendum A

In 1994, the Colorado legislature referred a constitutional amendment, Referendum A, to the ballot that would establish that any citizen-initiated measure needed to have a single subject. This was intended to prevent measures from including elements unrelated to the main purpose of the measure. This amendment passed by a vote of 66-34 percent. 

2008: Amendment 71

In 2008, Amendment 71 was placed on the ballot through the citizen-initiated ballot process. This amendment, known as Raise the Bar, changed the signature requirement for constitutional amendments in Colorado and increased the vote share needed to pass a constitutional amendment. Prior to Amendment 71, statutory and constitutional measures needed the same number of signatures, and both only needed a majority of votes to pass. After voters passed Amendment 71 by a 56-44 percent margin, constitutional measures needed 2 percent of all registered voters in every state senate district, as well as 55 percent to pass. This made it much more difficult to place constitutional measures on the Colorado ballot.