Colorado voters once again face a daunting list of arcanely worded questions barreling toward their mailboxes starting Oct. 9. By Election Day on Nov. 3, the state wants answers to 11 questions that could shape the policies of our state for the unmeasurable future.
The matters fill the scope: wolves on the Western Slope, rewriting the property tax formula, a late-term abortion ban, taxing nicotine, offering paid leave, reducing income tax rates and awarding Colorado’s future Electoral College votes, respectively.
That's not all. There’s casino gambling, voter approval over major government fees and leniency on charitable bingos and raffles.
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They share the ballot, however, with the candidates for president, U.S. Senate and 83 of the 100 seats in the state legislature.
And while the ballot issues don't attract the kind of big-money donors the candidates do, it's not nothing: collectively Colorado issue committees raised almost half of Jed Clampett's fortune — $10.7 million — from 28 respective issue committees between early June to early September, according to the most current financial disclosures.
"We lose so much in the attention of a presidential election, and with all the weirdness in this year, I'm afraid some important matters are going to get lost in the shuffle ," said Tom Wells, a voting rights activist from Denver who is waging an online campaign to raise awareness of lower-ticket issues in November, told Colorado Politics.
"The right to vote is a gift and it's your voice. If you don't vote, you don't have anything to say."
Wells is urging people on the right and left to consume the state's Blue Book guide on ballot questions, but also to consult voter guides from organizations and think tanks they trust.
"Don't be gullible, but don't be uninformed," Wells said. "Understanding the world you live in is the price of freedom and the way you honor the sacrifice of men and women who fought and died and our forefathers who made this country great."
Last year, voters were asked just two questions: to put a tax on sports betting, which passed, and give up an occasional tax rebate to pay for transportation and education, which didn’t. The year before, voters statewide considered a whopping 13. Five passed.
Getting measures on the ballot is hard enough: 124,632 valid signatures from registered voters. Advocates have to collect, usually, at least 160,000 to account for duplicate signatures, non-voters and jokesters who sign names like Bullwinkle J. Moose. That’s usually followed by a million-dollar campaign on the major Sisyphean issues.
Tax increases, for examples, haven't passed statewide since the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights joined the state Constitution nearly 30 year ago, unless the hike was dealt to niche products, such as marijuana, gambling, tobacco or other user fees.
Since Colorado's 1876 constitution was first amended in 1880, Colorado voters have sought to change the state constitution 352 times, and succeeded just 165 times. Voters have been asked directly to change state statutes 112 times and agreed just 44, according to legislative records.
The Colorado ballot, then, averages 3.4 asks per year.
Broadly, the subject of taxation accounts for the most ballot questions, 72 (with three more this year), followed by state government with 49 and elections with 46. By the by, gambling is 9 out of 23, but pot is 3 for 4 on statewide voting.
The ballot is long this year. Chris Brown, the policy and research director for the Common Sense Institute, a business-driven public policy institute, wondered out loud to Colorado Politics and ballot policy experts about ballot fatigue this year, and whether the costly, impactful issues will get the cool consideration they deserve in a landscape of pandemic, politics and economic crises.
The state's Blue Book analysis — 90 pages this year — details each of the ballot measures and has been sent to registered voters. It is available online by clicking here.
Brown and fellow researchers at the institute have applied a numerical analysis — and not a political spin — to most of the ballot questions. You can find that guide by clicking here.
Here’s Colorado Politics’ analysis of the highest profile questions, and a summary of the rest:
Amendment B - Repeal Gallagher Amendment
Proposition 114 - Reintroduction and Management of Gray Wolves
Proposition 115 - Prohibit Abortions after 22 weeks
Proposition 116 and 117 - State Income Tax Rate Reduction and Voter Approval for Certain New State Enterprises
Proposition 118 - Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program
The rest of the questions:
Proposition EE would raise the taxes on cigarettes and tobacco products and create a new tax on vaping products to raise money for K-12 education, rural schools, affordable housing, eviction assistance, tobacco education and health care. The issue committee behind it has collected $1.8 million since June 25, most of it from from Gary Community Investments, philanthropist Stacy Schusterman, who owns Samson Energy, and Pat Stryker, the philanthropist, progressive activist and heir to the Stryker Corp. medical device company.
Amendment 76 would change the state constitution to clarify only legal citizens can vote, largely a symbolic political gesture. The constitution currently says, "every citizen" can vote. The amendment changes it to "only a citizen." The proponent is Colorado Citizen Voters, which is supported by Citizen Voters Inc., a Florida-based organization founded by Trump adviser John Loudon, who has collected millions in donations to run the issue in states.
Amendment 77 would allow town voters in Central City, Blackhawk and Cripple Creek to decide whether to do away with the $100 betting limit and add more games, with 88% of the extra tax revenue supporting job training and student retention programs at community colleges and the rest to local governments. Local Choice Colorado, funded by casinos, has raised $2.2 million, the second-most behind those seeking to defeat the 22-week abortion ban. Opponents worry lifting betting limits will worsen the cost of gambling addiction.
Proposition 113 would pledge Colorado's future Electoral College votes to the winner of the national popular vote, the winner in all 50 states. Polis signed the provision into law last year after it was delivered by Democratic majorities. Voters have to ratify it. The measure is supported by the League of Women Voters, Common Cause Colorado, Fair Vote and other leading Colorado progressive groups. Opponents say Colorado is giving away its votes for president to more populous states such as California, Florida and New York City. The measure is opposed by chambers of commerce, as well as the regional coalitions Club 20, Action 22 and PRO 15.
Amendment C was referred to the ballot by the state legislature. It would allow nonprofit organizations that have operated in Colorado for at least three years to apply for a bingo-raffle license, decreasing it from five, and allows games to be run by workers who are not members of the organization who can earn up to minimum wage.