At first blush, Gov. Jared Polis’s executive order suspending rules relating to the signature-gathering process for ballot initiatives seems reasonable.

We’re in the midst of a pandemic, after all, and requiring in-person signature-gathering as prescribed by the state’s Constitution seems to fly in the face of common sense. Polis’s order makes it easier to collect signatures for fall ballot measures in the age of social distancing. It directs the secretary of state to create temporary rules to allow signatures for ballot issues to be collected by mail or email.

While the governor’s intent is noble — preserving the fundamental right of ordinary people to get their ideas on the ballot during a pandemic — his order undermines the rule of law that protects that very system. At least that’s how Colorado Concern sees it.

Colorado Concern, a statewide CEO-based organization, promotes a pro-business environment through the political process. As part of that mission, it wants to ensure the state’s “operating system” remains fair, reliable and transparent, said the group’s CEO Mike Kopp.

Colorado Concern has had a “terrific” working relationship with Polis, Kopp said, and the organization thinks he’s managed the coronavirus crisis quite well. But the group thinks Polis exceeded his authority, so it sued him, hoping a judge would agree. On Wednesday, a Denver District Court judge ruled against Colorado Concern’s petition, likely setting up a review by a higher court.

Colorado’s emergency powers law only allows the governor to suspend any statute, law or regulation “if strict compliance” with the rule “would in any way hinder the state’s ability to respond to or cope with the emergency.”

That’s not the case here, Colorado Concern’s legal team contends. In-person signature gathering was still taking place — even during the stay-at-home order — in parking lots and parks. The level of interaction with a petition circulator is no greater than that of a grocery store clerk or a restaurant worker processing a payment.

More importantly, the Constitutional requirement for an in-person or “wet” signatures undergirds the legitimacy of the process.

“The whole system for how we validate petitions in this state depends on that constitutional presumption of validity that comes from in-person signatures,” said Christopher Murray, a lawyer with the firm representing Colorado Concern told the Sentinel’s editorial board before both sides appeared before a judge last week to argue their positions.

The presumption of validity is what allows the Secretary of State’s office to validate petitions by random statistical sampling. By contrast, if a candidate for public office wants to petition onto a ballot, the secretary of state doesn’t presume validity. Every signature must be checked.

Polis’s order removes the in-person signature requirement and that makes the system vulnerable to signature harvesting from public records online. Those actions could come from foreign actors bent on sowing distrust in the system or even petition circulators who get paid by the signature.

It does seem like odd timing for the governor’s executive order to be in effect at the same time the state is reopening many aspects of life that had been shut down due to the coronavirus.

We’re not sure how the lower court got past the plaintiff’s contention that the governor’s emergency powers don’t allow him to amend the Constitution by executive order.

We’d like a higher court’s opinion of whether the integrity of the citizens initiative process can ever be compromised.