View up to the hall of presidents at the Colorado Capitol, April 19, 2023. (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline)
A conservative group is suing Colorado Democratic lawmakers over a process they say leadership improperly uses to determine legislative priorities.
The process, known as quadratic voting, is a secret survey that Democratic representatives and senators fill out anonymously to rank certain bills that require funding in their chamber.
The top-ranked bills in both legislative chambers, as reported by KUNC, all went on to become law this year.
“This clearly violates Colorado open meetings law, because the public has a right to observe this kind of decision making. It’s against the law for a public body to use secret ballots to adopt any position,” Michael Fields, the president of Advance Colorado, said in a video statement posted to Twitter.
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The suit was filed on Wednesday in Denver District Court by the Public Trust Institute and Douglas County resident David Fornof, who Fields said is represented by Advance Colorado. It names the Colorado House of Representatives, the Colorado Senate, House Speaker Julie McCluskie, Senate President Steve Fenberg, Rep. Bob Marshall, Sen. Jeff Bridges, Sen. Chris Hansen, and policy analyst Andrew Lindinger as defendants. Democrats control both the House and Senate chambers.
It does not target Republicans, who the lawsuit says “are not included in the process.”
The lawsuit alleges that the quadratic voting process violates the Colorado Open Meetings Law, which states that a gathering of two or more members of a state public body at which any public business is discussed needs to be open to the public. COML prohibits secret balloting by public bodies.
“The practice of quadratic voting is purposely constructed to conceal information that the public is entitled to know. Specifically, it casts a veil of secrecy over the priorities of specific legislators and replaces them with a caucus consensus. This practice denies the public the right to hold individual legislators accountable for the way they prioritize legislation and allows certain bills to be killed or advanced in a secret process instead of being subjected to public discussion and debate,” the lawsuit reads.
The plaintiffs want access to the individual scoring records for lawmakers from this year’s session and for those records to be made public going forward.
PTI submitted an open records request for records related to quadratic voting in April. The group received an email with voting instructions and aggregated results, but no individual scoring data. There were other records not included because they constituted “work product.” Fornof submitted a similar request, and got a similar response, to Marshall.
The plaintiffs allege that the Legislature uses a third-party vendor, RadicalxChange, to conduct the survey to circumvent open meeting laws and records requests and ensure secrecy. Additionally, they allege that some lawmakers use a personal email, putting the correspondence beyond open records requests.
This is the second time the House of Representatives and its Democratic leaders have been sued this summer on alleged open meeting violations. Reps. Marshall and Elisabeth Epps filed a lawsuit alleging that non-noticed caucus meetings and use of messaging applications like Signal to discuss official business violate open meetings law.
Neither Senate nor House leadership immediately responded to a request for comment.
Fenberg previously told KUNC that quadratic voting is only one factor in determining which bills get pushed through.
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