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Colorado lawmakers say they’ll continue using secret ballot system to help decide fate of bills

This is an image of a snow covered Colorado State Capitol building from the East side where a statue of a Native American is standing over a slain buffalo.
Lucas Brady Woods/Capitol Coverage
Colorado lawmakers started using quadratic voting to help decide the fate of bills with fiscal notes in 2019.

Colorado lawmakers will continue to use a secret ballot system this year that transparency advocates say violates the state’s open meeting laws.

Lawmakers call the secret survey “quadratic voting,” and House Speaker Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, said last week that the legislature will use it again this session to help them decide which bills should get funding and pass.

We have used a (quadratic voting) process to gather member input as just one data point, consideration, preference on how members are thinking about the legislation because we don't have enough money to go around.
House Speaker Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, as lawmakers prepared to debate a $38.5 billion state budget package

“So yes, we will be using a similar process,” she said.

McCluskie said the results of the secret survey would be released to the public, which would be a change from previous sessions.

Lawmakers denied open records requests from KUNC last year seeking the results of the secret surveys lawmakers participated in over the last three years.

The potential change to disclose more information about the bill ranking survey, which lawmakers fill out anonymously, comes after transparency advocates alleged it violates the state’s open meetings laws.

KUNC’s report on the secret ballot system, and how some lawmakers felt it was quietly killing bills, prompted the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition to write a letter to lawmakers calling the system illegal.

The transparency group said using a secret survey deprives the public of its right to observe important decision making — in real time — as the Colorado Open Meetings Law requires.

We believe that this system violates the open meetings law, the prohibition against using secret ballots, and the Colorado Supreme Court's ruling in the 1980s that legislative caucus meetings must be open to the public.
Jeff Roberts, CFOIC director

State Sen. Chris Hansen. D-Denver, introduced quadratic voting to the Capitol in 2019. He told KUNC last year the survey results were “more valuable” if they were only used internally. He also said the survey lets lawmakers give an “unvarnished” view of how they feel about legislation.

KUNC is filing an open records request for the results of any surveys that are taken this year.

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