Personhood proposal disqualified from ballot

Proponents plan to appeal ruling
The Colorado Statesman

A ballot proposal that would have banned abortion in Colorado by offering constitutional rights to the unborn was deemed insufficient on Wednesday by the secretary of state’s office, thereby likely disqualifying the initiative for the November ballot.

Proponents of the so-called “personhood” initiative submitted 106,119 signatures on Aug. 6. But the secretary of state’s office found that the total valid signatures was only 82,246, falling short of the 86,105 valid signatures necessary to place the initiative on the ballot.

The office had until Sept. 5 to inform proponents whether the measure qualified.

While the secretary of state’s office says there is no time to cure signatures, and therefore the question won’t appear on the ballot, personhood proponents say they are already planning to appeal the ruling.

At issue is an admission by Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler’s office that as part of the verification process, signature checkers misplaced a petition section containing 20 signatures. Staffers could not locate the section. The secretary’s office says it still accepted the misplaced signatures as valid and added them to the final tally of valid signatures.

But the explanation is not enough for proponents, who believe there could be entire petitions that were discarded, despite valid signatures and valid accompanying affidavits.

The personhood coalition says that under Colorado law, it has 30 days to file a protest. It has engaged election law specialist Shayne Madsen of the Jackson Kelly Law Firm to assist in the case.

“The law states that we have 30 days to file a challenge, and we fully intend to do so,” Gualberto Garcia Jones, legal analyst for Personhood USA, said in a statement. “Based on the Secretary of State’s 5 percent [random] sample, we have calculated that we will be able to recover the signatures necessary to appear on the ballot.”

“This disqualification is by an extremely narrow number, and as we have seen thousands of valid voter signatures discarded unnecessarily, we will be filing a challenge to ensure that every Colorado voter’s voice is heard, and that every signature counts,” added Jones.

A spokesman for Gessler said proponents do in fact have 30 days to challenge.

“It will not be on the ballot unless a judge finds for them,” said Rich Coolidge.

Proponents were immediately crippled by time restraints this year because of a lawsuit filed earlier this year by Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains challenging the title of the ballot initiative. Sponsors had seven fewer weeks to collect signatures, and therefore have no time to fix invalid signatures. The Colorado Supreme Court ruled in March that the ballot title for the initiative was appropriate.

Opponents cheer ruling

Colorado voters have killed prior personhood proposals, including in 2008, when 73 percent rejected the measure, and again in 2010, when 71 percent of voters did likewise.

Opponents lined up on Wednesday to cheer the news that the question will likely not appear on the November ballot.

“Every person who refused to sign the proponents’ petition stood up for Colorado families and values,” Fofi Mendez, campaign director for NO Personhood, said in a statement. “The NO Personhood Campaign stands with them.”

“Women across Colorado are sighing with relief. Today is a victory for women’s health,” Vicki Cowart, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, said in a statement. “The fact that Personhood Colorado was not able to qualify their measure on the 2012 ballot demonstrates how out of touch their agenda is with Colorado values.

“Health decisions should be left to a woman, her doctor, her family and her faith — not politicians — Coloradans know this,” Cowart continued. “Let today be a signal to personhood supporters who return to Colorado year after year with anti-woman, anti-family, anti-patient privacy ballot proposals — Coloradans have said ‘no’ to intrusion into our personal, private medical decisions and we mean it.”

“Coloradans win with today’s announcement from the Secretary of State,” added Jeremy Shaver, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado. “Twice voters have stopped this intrusive measure on Election Day. This year, we stopped the amendment before it even reached the ballot.”

Opponents have raised $96,996 to fight the initiative, as of the last campaign filings on July 30. They say they will hold the money in anticipation of future efforts.

“We know they will be back in 2014, so the monies raised thus far will remain on reserve in the Protect Families Protect Choices issue committee,” said Monica McCafferty, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains. “We will be reaching out to individual donors to remind them how important it is to keep a ‘war chest’ in place for all the other attacks on women that are bound to come.”

Politics at play

The campaign for U.S. Congressman Ed Perlmutter, D-Golden, who is facing a challenge from Republican Joe Coors in the 7th Congressional District, took the opportunity to take a jab at Coors for previously supporting personhood in Colorado with a $1,000 contribution in 2010. Coors said this year he is not supporting personhood, but Perlmutter’s campaign still took the chance to attack Coors.

“Regardless of this initiative appearing on the ballot, this doesn’t change Joe Coors’ extreme views and past funding and support for efforts to restrict a woman’s ability to make her own medical decisions,” said Leslie Oliver, spokeswoman for Perlmutter.

Colorado Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio issued a statement questioning the majority of Republicans, including presidential nominee Mitt Romney and his running mate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, for supporting a platform that would ban abortion even in extreme cases.

“Today’s failure by the personhood campaign removes just one of the many threats to women and their right to make their own health care choices…” said Palacio. “Gov. Mitt Romney has expressed his support for personhood efforts that would outlaw a woman’s right to choose even in cases of rape and incest. Additionally, his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, has co-sponsored national legislation to enact that same extreme agenda.”

Palacio went on to criticize U.S. Reps. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, and Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, for their previous support of personhood efforts.

“Rep. Ryan joined with Colorado congressmen Mike Coffman, Cory Gardner and Doug Lamborn to try to change the definition of rape to further roll back women’s control of their own health care choices,” said Palacio. “While today’s news is encouraging, we have much more work to do to keep women in control of their own rights.”

Peter@coloradostatesman.com