Signatures are being gathered for a proposed state constitutional amendment specifying that only U.S. citizens can vote in Colorado elections — a rule already in state and federal law.
The move is part of a national campaign to draw attention to the issue in 2020 and possibly goose conservative turnout in battleground states.
The Colorado Constitution already says “every citizen” can vote if he or she meets qualifications and is registered. The amendment would change that to say “only a citizen” who meets the qualifications and is registered can vote.
“This initiative seeks to clarify and codify the Colorado Constitution by taking ambiguous, inclusive language and making it clear, exclusive language,” said George Athanasopoulos, a former Republican congressional nominee and one of the initiative’s sponsors.
Athanasopoulos said he’s been raising concern about that wording since he ran against U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter in 2016, and he considers it more urgent now that noncitizens can vote in some local elections in five states.
“We have an opportunity in 2020 to correct a problem,” Athanasopoulos said. “If you’re not a citizen and you vote now, that’s currently against the law. But the Democrats may change the law tomorrow. That’s why we’re pushing for a constitutional change. If San Francisco is doing it today, that means Boulder is doing it tomorrow.”
San Francisco and Chicago allow noncitizens to vote in school board elections, and noncitizens can vote in some municipal elections in Massachusetts, Vermont and Maryland.
There don’t appear to be any efforts in Colorado to let non-citizens vote in local elections — a practice that national advocates say encourages civic participation by taxpayers and parents, regardless of their citizenship.
The proposed Amendment 76 has been dubbed the “Citizen Voters Amendment” by its sponsors.
Supporters have until Nov. 12 to gather 124,632 valid signatures, including a specified number from each of Colorado’s 35 Senate districts.
If the initiative makes the 2020 ballot, it will need 55% of the vote to pass under requirements approved by state voters in 2016.
“Based on the polling I know about, we not only have a chance, but we have a decisive advantage,” said Athanasopoulos, who declined to share the polling data.
North Dakota voters passed a nearly identical measure last year with 65.9% of the vote, and a group associated with the Colorado initiative has turned in a record 1.3 million petition signatures to put a similar question on Florida’s 2020 ballot. (The Florida measure will have to pass muster with the state’s Supreme Court if enough signatures are validated.)
But while that national group will help Colorado’s effort, locals will call the shots, Athanasopoulos said.
“”It was a meeting of the minds. ... The national organization has mobilized voters across the country. We decided now was a politically logical time to introduce this initiative.”
Citizen Voters Inc., a national nonprofit that plans to spearhead and help finance ballot measures in up to 14 states, is headed by John Loudon, a former Missouri state senator with past ties to organizations that support President Donald Trump’s campaign.
Loudon and his wife, Gina, who live in West Palm Beach and belong to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club, have been prominent figures in the push to put the question on Florida’s ballot.
The national group has poured $4.7 million into the Florida campaign, the Washington Post reported, but the source of the money is a mystery because nonprofits aren’t required to disclose contributors.
The political committee supporting the Colorado measure registered with the Secretary of State’s Office on July 26, with former state House Minority Leader Joe Stengel, a Denver attorney, listed as its registered agent.
Tim Mooney, a veteran Republican strategist based in Arizona and a listed contact for the Florida campaign, will help coordinate Colorado’s petition drive, Athanasopoulos said.
“The national effort broke records in Florida; I expect us to break records in Colorado, in terms of the number of signatures submitted,” he said. “I expect to smash signature records well before the deadline.”
Mooney told the Washington Post that the group also plans campaigns in Alabama, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio and West Virginia.
“It’s a national effort that will obviously have additional benefits. It will help drive turnout; it will help elect candidates; it may be the decisive issue in many elections across the country this year,” Athanasopoulos said. “If Republicans are smart, they will grab this issue and run with it. This polls like no other issue does. They need to take this issue, take it to every voter, tell them, ‘I’ve signed the petition; why has my opponent not signed?’”
The Colorado Republican Party hasn’t taken a position but “is gathering information and reviewing this measure,” said Lx Fangonilo, the Colorado GOP’s executive director, through a spokesman.
A Democratic strategist called the campaign “a cynical but not unintelligent ploy,” though he said he doubts it will drive turnout much in Colorado, since its supporters already will show up to vote with “Trump at the top of the ticket.”
“It’s a cynical way to try to divide Democratic candidates and get them on the record on an issue that sounds on its face like common sense, but if you think about it is more complicated,” said the strategist, who discussed the ballot measure on condition of anonymity.
“Maybe their community wants the parents of DACA kids to vote in a school board election,” he said, referring to families of children brought into the country illegally at an early age. “Ironically, it’s a bit of a local-control issue from people who are normally all about local control. It’s about whether or not a community says folks who are not yet citizens can weigh in on issues in their community, even though they pay taxes, they participate, they want to be able to be part of the fabric of American life. It’s much easier to say something hateful.”