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City of Boulder Ballot Question 2F: Initiative Petition Signature Verification


By

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.

Question 2F addresses petition signatures and the potential for petition fraud. It would amend several sections (39, 46, 57) of the City Charter, to require the city clerk to compare the signatures on a petition “to the extent reasonably possible…to signatures with the election records of the Boulder County Clerk or the Secretary of State.”

Like Question 2E, this measure came out of the city’s Campaign Finance and Elections Working Group process. Election officials maintain signature records, and they’re currently used to compare signatures on the back of mail ballots to signatures on file for authenticity.

Before primary or general elections, election officials might receive large numbers of petitions with large volumes of signatures on each batch submitted. Perhaps one of the most well known recent petition controversies occurred in 2016, when a petition gatherer for U.S. Senate candidate Jon Keyser was hit with felony forgery charges, eventually pleading guilty to two charges and receiving probation. At the state or district level, petitioning onto the ballot is an alternative to going through the lengthy caucus/assembly process—a process that is not guaranteed to put a candidate on the ballot—and candidate or issue campaigns may pay petition gatherers to help make sure they gather the thousands of signatures necessary to qualify.

In the City of Boulder, City Council candidates only need 25 valid petition signatures to get on the ballot. However, campaigns for citizen initiatives or recall elections in Boulder need to gather thousands of signatures, with future numbers potentially dependent on the results of Question 2E.

Petition gatherers frequently use the tactic of telling voters that signing is “just to get this issue (or candidate) on the ballot.” However, just putting something or someone on the ballot may not be a benign activity if the candidate is questionable or the initiative has flaws, since a sufficient petition puts the candidate or issue one step closer to winning. Also, petitioning might involve some level of campaign financing, and there could be monetary value in an election outcome. Question 2F does not seek to improve peoples’ judgment around petitioning, but it could give Boulder residents greater confidence that the signatures on a local petition are valid and an initiative or candidate deserves to be on the ballot.

Question 2F Pros and Cons

Pro

  • There have been documented cases of petition fraud in Colorado, and Boulder should do everything possible to prevent petition fraud in its elections.

Con

  • Question 2F would add to the workload of the City Clerk’s office, especially if multiple city initiatives are submitted at or near the same time.
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