Guest Columns

DUNCAN: GO TO THE BOTTOM OF THE BALLOT AND VOTE ?YES?

Ref. O would return control to citizens

This time of every even-numbered year is a veritable feast for political writers. National elections, state elections, county elections, and ballot issues abound. It’s political nirvana.

We readers of The Colorado Statesman all see more political writing than we can possibly absorb. Every writer has opinions, and each writes about and talks about them ad infinitum.

Well, here’s my contribution to the clutter. However, it’s not about the glitzy stuff. I want to ask you to consider the very last issue on our Colorado ballot, Referendum O.

This is the proposal to finally make some sense out of the way we place issues on the ballot to be considered by the voters. I started writing about this issue in The Statesman well over a decade ago.

In Colorado, we use the same standards and signature requirements to put constitutional amendments on the ballot that we use to put any minor statute before the voters, even though a constitutional amendment requires a statewide vote to make even a minor change. A statute adopted by the voters, on the other hand, can be changed by the Legislature.

Under the existing system, issue authors are encouraged to seek a constitutional amendment. After all, it can’t be changed by the Legislature, no matter what unforeseen problems may show up.

Referendum O would encourage the adoption of statutes through the ballot instead of installing them in the constitution.

Our state constitution soon will look like the History of Civilization if we keep putting minor issues in it.

A woman I met at a voter registration site a few days ago opined that, “Our state constitution looks like the work of a sixth grade civics class run amuck.”

I wholeheartedly agree. We need to get this problem under control.

Referendum O does this by changing signature requirements for various proposals to get on the ballot. A constitutional amendment would require signatures equal to 6 percent of all votes cast for governor in the last election, and 8 percent of the signatures must be collected in each congressional district.

A statutory initiative would require signatures equal to 4 percent of all votes cast for governor in the last election, without the congressional district requirements.

But, say authors of proposals, the Legislature can simply change a statute if the majority of members don’t like it.

Referendum O takes care of that problem in another provision I have always proposed. To change a statute adopted by the voters would be much more difficult. It would require a two-thirds majority of the Legislature to change such a statute within five years of its adoption.

Colorado citizens always have held dear the right of voters to have the last word on issues we care about deeply. It has been a populist highlight in our governmental structure since statehood. We don’t really like turning our life over to the Legislature unless there is some way we can change what they do or add something they won’t do.

It would probably surprise most of us to learn that only about half of the states allow citizens to initiate referenda or constitutional changes. It’s a wonderful part of our culture.

However, the manner in which we control the process needs to make sense. For too many years, it hasn’t.

This is particularly true since court decisions have limited the ways ordinary citizens can control the process.

First, the courts overturned our law that only volunteer solicitors may collect signatures. If you have enough money, you can flood the state with as many signature solicitors as you want. The old law was in the true populist tradition. The court decision put the process in the hands of those with enough money to impose their will
on us.

Second, the courts ruled that we cannot limit the amount of money that can be spent on advertising ballot issues. Money is speech, they say. So much for “one man, one vote.”

To take back as much control over what happens to us on ballot issues as is possible, and to make sense of the way we do it, I beg you to adopt Referendum O.

This is a long ballot this year. And, particularly if you choose to vote on Election Day at your neighborhood polling place, it may be difficult to get all the way through the candidates, the judges and all the issues.

I sincerely urge you to go all the way to the bottom of the ballot. Even if you decide not to vote on all the items on the ballot, please take just a moment and look way down at the bottom of the ballot and cast a “yes” vote on that last issue, Referendum O.

Take back citizen control.

Norman Duncan is a former lobbyist and current Democrat.