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City of Boulder Ballot Question 2E: Initiative, Referendum, and Recall Process


Note: This article is part of a series of 2018 ballot issue analyses written for the Blue Line by author Richard ValentyYou can find coverage of the other 2018 ballot issues here. Ed.

Briefly, Question 2E amends a number of City Charter sections with the following intention:

  • Clarify the actions required to be taken if a candidate withdraws from a City Council election.
  • Establish the number of signatures required for an initiative and referendum to be at least ten percent of the average number of registered electors of the city who voted in the previous two municipal candidate elections.
  • Establish the number of signatures required for a recall to be at least twenty percent of the average number of registered electors of the city who voted in the previous two municipal candidate elections.
  • Amend the process and establish a fixed schedule for filing, review and consideration of initiative, referendum, and recall petitions.
  • Set standards for the city clerk’s examination of petitions so that this examination is completed in a timely fashion and the possibility of fraud is minimized.
  • Provide for input from the petition committee to the City Council prior to setting the ballot title to help ensure accuracy of the title.
  • Require that an ordinance passed by vote of the people may only be amended by two-thirds of the council members present, and only if the amendments are consistent with the basic intent of the ordinance or are necessary to come into compliance with state or federal law.

This probably seems like a lot to chew on, but the issues for the most part are not that complex. The city established a Campaign Finance and Elections Working Group shortly after the 2017 municipal election, and 2E is a product of recommendations from that group.

  • Initiative signatures: Perhaps the most relevant part of 2E involves petition signature requirements. If 2E passes, proponents for initiative and referendum measures would need to gather valid signatures from at least 10 percent of an average of total voters during the previous two municipal elections, while the current Charter calls for 10 percent of city registered electors on the day the petition is filed. For example, the 2017 county election report showed 72, 574 active voters in the City of Boulder, so 10% of that would be about 7,257 signatures (current system). City voter turnout was 29,552 in 2015, and 31,765 in 2017, for an average of 30,658, so 10% would be 3,065 signatures (proposed system). Of course, these numbers could be different the next time an initiative petition is pulled for circulation.
  • Recall signatures: For recall election petitions, 2E would require proponents to gather valid signatures from 20 percent of total voters during the previous two municipal elections, while the current Charter calls for 25 percent of all city voters who voted for governor in the last election. To hit 20% of city voters, organizers would need about 6,130 signatures based on the average of 2015 and 2017. For comparison, 46,513 city ballots were cast in the last governor’s race in 2014, though perhaps there were some undervotes, but 25% of that total would be 11,628.
  • Council Amendments of Voter-Approved Measures: You voted for something and it passed—so it’s a done deal, right? Yes, but 2E would allow amendments under defined circumstances. Under current Charter language, voter-approved ordinances can’t be repealed without another vote of the people. However, under 2E, City Council would be able to amend the ordinance “provided that the amendments do not alter or modify the basic intent of such ordinance or are necessary to come into compliance with state or federal law.”

Much of the rest of 2E involves deadlines and process. In short:

  • Petition Language: Currently, petitioners submit their petition form to the city for review and comment. Under 2E, petitioners could re-submit a petition that was amended after review and comment, and the city manager would need to make any additional comments on the amended petition within five days.
  • Dropping Out: Once in a while, a candidate is certified but decides to drop out of the race before the election. Under 2E, candidates who drop out before ballots are printed won’t be on the ballot. If they drop out after ballots are printed, their votes won’t count. Currently, the Charter specifies what happens when candidates drop prior to the 66th day before the election or on or after the 65th day, leaving a gap as to what happens when a candidate drops out on the 66th day. Under 2E, the date calculation would be stricken from the Charter as unnecessary.
  • The Right to a Speedy Petition Process: Question 2E returns a fixed schedule to the petition process and eliminates the discretion provided to the city manager in 2017 to set the time-table for review. Under 2E, petitioners would need to submit their batch of signatures by at least 150 days before the election. The city clerk would need to examine the signatures and determine sufficiency by 140 days before the election. Under the current Charter, petitioners would have 10 days to gather more signatures if the clerk finds there aren’t enough valid signatures, and this would not change under 2E. Back to 2E—the clerk would then need to re-examine such a petition and determine sufficiency within 120 days of the election.
  • Ballot Title: The ballot title is that non-reader-friendly section of text that appears on your ballot, but the much larger amount of information found in ordinances or public process does not show up on the ballot.  Unfortunately, some voters never read anything about a measure except the title, so the title text is important.  Under 2E, City Council must set the title within 70 days of the election, and challenges to this action must take place within seven days. Question 2E adds the requirement that City Council get input from petitioners before setting the title of an initiative.

Question 2E Pros and Cons


  • The petition signature requirements under 2E are better tied to actual Boulder voting activity than the current Charter language.
  • Under 2E, there would be more certainty around the petition process and tighter deadlines for city action than under current Charter language.


  • This is a multi-part ballot measure that amends many sections of the City Charter, and all of it becomes law even if voters disagree with one part.
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