DENVER – The fate of a ballot question asking state voters to raise taxes for schools could hinge on the color of ink used to sign the petitions.
Denver District Judge R. Michael Mullins heard arguments Friday in a lawsuit by opponents of the tax increase, who claim the Amendment 66 campaign failed to follow state laws about the way petitions are gathered.
Mullins said he would issue a ruling no later than Tuesday. Amendment 66 seeks an income tax increase to raise nearly $1 billion a year for public schools.
Specifically, opponents say petition circulators filled out parts of the forms that were supposed to be completed by notaries. They also said some petition circulators failed to provide their addresses. The Legislature tightened the rules for petition campaigns in 2009, after reports of fraud by some signature gatherers.
Two former state senators who filed the complaint are not alleging fraud by the Amendment 66 campaign. But they point to inconsistencies in handwriting and different colored ink as proof that petitioners – not notaries – filled out parts of their forms, contrary to the law.
Mark Grueskin, a lawyer for the Amendment 66 proponents, compared the judge’s role to a referee in a basketball game.
“You can ref a basketball game tight or not. You can ref it where every little slap is a foul,” Grueskin said.
But courts in the past have said ballot petitions are legal if they are “substantially compliant” with the law, not “strictly compliant,” as the plaintiffs argue, Grueskin said.
Plaintiffs’ lawyer Matt Smith argued against the more lenient standard.
“If that’s the case, then why do we even have these rules?” Smith said.