Tenth Circuit rejects challenge to Colorado tax-related ballot initiative language requirements

From Advance Colorado v. Griswold:

In 2021, the Colorado state legislature passed The Ballot Measure Fiscal Transparency Act (“HB 21-1321”), which requires certain language be included in state-imposed titles of citizen-initiated ballot measures. Specifically, if the proposal contains a tax change affecting state or local revenues, the measure’s title must incorporate a phrase stating the change’s impact on state and district funding priorities. In 2023, Appellants (collectively, “Advance Colorado”) proposed two tax reduction measures subject to the provisions of HB 21-1321. After Colorado’s Ballot Title Setting Board (the “Title Board”) included the mandated transparency language in each initiative’s title, Advance Colorado filed suit challenging HB 21-1321 as unconstitutionally compelling its political speech. The district court denied the corresponding request for a preliminary injunction, concluding the titling process qualified as government speech and, therefore, Advance Colorado was not likely to succeed on the merits of its claims. We agree that HB 21-1321’s requirements do not result in improperly compelled speech under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

And from later in the opinion (lightly revised):

The Colorado Title Board has existed and set ballot titles in a similar manner for over eighty years. As is the case today, when it was first formed the Title Board was solely responsible for setting a measure’s title without the influence of proposal advocates. The long history of the Title Board’s practices reflects the substantial control the government asserts over initiative titles and its legitimate interest in providing a standardized process for presenting measures to voters. Titling is statutorily separated and preserved as an express function of the government under Colorado law. Despite the catalytic role played by citizens in the initiative process, ballot titles are fully and exclusively crafted by the government through the Secretary of State’s office. Indeed, “[t]he fact that private parties take part in the design and propagation of a message does not extinguish the governmental nature of the message or transform the government’s role into that of a mere forum provider.” Walker [v. Texas Div., Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc.]. Advance Colorado has failed to offer any evidence refuting this history of substantial government control.

Advance Colorado is also unable to demonstrate that . . . the general public perceives initiative titles to be the speech of private citizen-advocates. . . .

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