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Colorado Democrats are eliminating secrecy from a survey they use to help decide the fate of bills

Transparency advocates also called on lawmakers to stop using the secret survey
The exterior of the state Capitol building on a winter day in 2020. Colorado Democrats announced Tuesday, April 2, 2024, that they will publicize how lawmakers vote in a survey to prioritize bills requiring state funding. (Scott Franz/KUNC)

Democratic state lawmakers announced Tuesday they’re taking the secrecy out of a survey they previously filled out anonymously to help decide which bills should live or die.

Under the new system, Democrats who participate will still go online to select the top bills they think should get a piece of the state’s budget. But once the survey closes, the results will be publicized and lawmakers’ individual preferences will be revealed.

The change to make all parts of the survey public comes months after a judge ordered lawmakers to stop using their previous secret ballot system to prioritize legislation because it violated Colorado’s open meetings law.

Judge David H. Goldberg wrote in his ruling that by using secret ballots, “the public was thus deprived of the ability to know how their elected representatives voted to prioritize pending legislation, hampering their ability to hold their representatives accountable for how they cast their votes.”

A KUNC News investigation also revealed that former state Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, blamed the secret ballot system for the death of a bill she ran in 2022 in the wake of the Marshall Fire to improve wildfire investigations.

Because of the January court ruling against the secret ballot system, the public will soon be able to see which bills individual lawmakers choose to support after they fill out the survey.

“Everything in this process is going to be completely open and transparent, and there will be a record in this case, unlike previously,” Senate President Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, told reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday.

Democrats will be invited to fill out the survey online using a Google form starting Friday, and the results will be published at this website April 9.

The results will help leaders of the House and Senate appropriations committees decide how to prioritize an estimated 320 bills competing against each other for a piece of the $25 million available for new legislation in next year's budget.

Fenberg said he had not talked to Republican leaders about the new bill prioritization survey process. Only Democrats who control the legislature have been regularly using the secret ballot system since 2019.

The conservative Public Trust Institute and a Douglas County resident, David Fornof, sued the legislature last summer over the secret ballots, alleging they “denied the public the right to hold individual legislators accountable for the way they prioritize legislation.”

Transparency advocates also called on lawmakers to stop using the secret survey, which lawmakers call "quadratic voting."

Jeff Roberts, the director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, said rendering survey results accessible to all will make it easier for the public to understand why some bills die at the end of the session without a public vote.

Taking secrecy out the survey is good for transparency, he said—and for the public.

“They want to know how their legislators feel about certain legislation,” Roberts said.