Colorado State Legislative refers 6 ballot issues to 2018 midterms

Samantha Ye

The Colorado State legislature has referred six constitutional amendments to the voters for the 2018 midterm elections. These address matters such as language clarifications to the state constitution, political redistricting, ballot formatting and more. 

After Amendment 71 passed in 2016, all constitutional amendments must pass with a 55-percent majority, according to a Colorado Secretary of State press release.

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Ballots start mailing out to registered voters the week of Oct. 15 and can be deposited in the 24-hour drop boxes anytime up until 7 p.m. Nov. 6. Registration status can be checked on the Colorado Secretary of State website.

Amendment A – Slavery Language

Language in the Colorado Constitution currently allows for slavery or involuntary servitude as a punishment for a convicted crime. The constitution reads, “There shall never be in this state either slavery or involuntary servitude except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”

If Amendment A is approved, the exception will be struck to read, “There shall never be in this state either slavery or involuntary servitude.”

It will not affect current prison work and community service since those programs are considered voluntary, according to Colorado Public Radio.

A nearly identical measure, Amendment T, failed by less than 1 percent in 2016 due to “unclear wording” and confusion as to how this would affect prison work, according to CPR. The State legislature referred the new amendment back to the voters this year by 100 percent.

According to the campaign website, passing this measure guarantees the exceptions “will never be used or abused in the future,” and it will show “that slavery is not a Colorado value.” 

There is no formal opposition to the amendment, but the argument against it provided in the 2018 State Ballot Information Blue Book claims the measure is technically redundant. It may also increase the number of offenders filing additional lawsuits. 

Amendment X – Industrial Hemp

Approval of this amendment would redefine “industrial hemp” to have the same meaning as defined in federal law or a state statute, instead of being tied to the State’s own constitutional definition. 

Currently, in Colorado, the term is defined as a plant of the genus cannabis with 3 percent or less THC content when the substance is completely dry. This is the same as the current federal definition, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

According to the Colorado Independent, if federal law allows a higher percentage of THC in hemp, Colorado would still be stuck at 3 percent since the state can only update the Constitutional language through ballot measures. Colorado growers would be at a competitive disadvantage nationwide because they must worry about keeping THC at a lower percent.

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The office of Sen. Stephen Fenberg said the federal law is expected to change to permit more hemp cultivation, according to Ballotpedia. Changes to the definition cannot be done as reflexively if it is defined in the Constitution rather than a state statute, and that could put the State industry at a disadvantage, supporting Senators are cited saying in Ballotpedia

Colorado is currently the nation’s leading producer of hemp with 688 registered growers cultivating 23,500 outdoor acres and 3.9 million indoor square feet of the material, according to the Blue Book. Industrial hemp is used for fuel, paper, plastic substitutes, rope and more.

Opposition included in the Blue Book states the measure may deviate from Colorado voters’ original intent since the initiative to legalize pot in 2012 added the definition of industrial hemp to the Colorado Constitution. There is no formal opposition.

Amendment Y and Amendment Z – Political Redistricting

After each census, voting districts are redrawn to reflect population and demographic changes to ensure each district has an equal population, according to the state government website. This process is known as redistricting and the next occurrence will be after the 2020 Census. 

Colorado has two separate groups responsible for redistricting, according to the state. The Colorado General Assembly, also known as the House and Senate, is responsible for redistricting Colorado’s congressional seats. 

The last four times congressional redistricting has occurred, the state legislature failed to complete a new district map in time, resulting in court action, according to the Blue Book.   

The current Colorado Reapportionment Commission redistricts Colorado’s 35 State Senate and 65 State House of Representative districts. The Commission is composed of 11 members. 

Amendment Y and Z replaces both groups.

Amendment Y creates the Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission, which will be in charge of Congressional redistricting. Amendment Z creates the Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission which will be in charge of Legislative redistricting. 

Both commissions would have 12 distinct members with eight members from the state’s two largest political parties and four politically unaffiliated members. As of now, that would look like four Democrats, four Republicans and four unaffiliated members.

The measures would establish a detailed process for hiring those members. They would also expand the criteria the commission must use for evaluating district maps, such as prioritizing communities of interest and cultivating political competitiveness. 

Support group Fair Maps Colorado claims the intention behind the measures is to limit partisan influence in the maps by ensuring no one party controls the process. It also increases transparency by making all map-related communications occur in public to start and provides opportunities for more public participation, according to the Blue Book. 

As of Aug. 28, there is no formal opposition, according to the Coloradoan. The argument against the measure from the Blue Book asserts the commissions lack accountability because the members are not elected and the selection process is too “random” to guarantee unaffiliated members are not partisan. It also criticizes the difficulty of applying the “broad” map outline criteria in an objective manner. 

Amendment V – Minimum Candidate Age

Amendment V would reduce the age required to run for representative in Colorado down from 25 to 21. A similar measure failed in 2008 by seven points, according to Ballotpedia

Currently, Colorado requires candidates for both the State’s House of Representatives and Senate to be at least 25 years old, making it one of only three states to do so, according to the National Conference of State LegislaturesThis puts the Colorado minimum age average on the higher end.

In 2015, the average age of a State House and Senate representative were 53 and 57, respectively, while the state’s average adult age was 45.6 years old, according to the National Conference of State Legislature. Millennials make up 3 percent of the legislators, but 32 percent of the state population. 

Measure supporters include New Era Colorado, an organization for educating and training youth in political engagement. They argue lowering the age requirement will encourage the civic engagement of young people. A 21-year-old is old enough to vote or serve in the military so they should be old enough to run, supporters have stated to Colorado Politics

Opposition arguments included in the Blue Book claim a younger age may result in lack of maturity or experience which could “hinder a young legislator’s ability to represent his or her constituents effectively.” 

Amendment W – Ballot Formatting

Ballot example
Amendment W would reformat the judicial retention portion of the ballot. The current ballot formatting asks voters about the retainment of each judge individually (Left). The amendment would stack them under one question with Yes or No bubbles next to each judge or justice’s name (Right). (Image courtesy Legislative Council of the Colorado General Assembly)

This measure would reformat the ballot section for the judicial retention section. 

State justices and judges are nominated by a commission and then appointed by the governor. Voters can also vote them off the bench. 

Voters are asked each year if they would like to keep the current justices and judges in a judicial retention election.

Colorado justices serve on the State Supreme Court, and Colorado judges serve in state’s lower courts, according to the Colorado Department of State. This puts many names on the ballot since all levels of state courts are subject to the retention vote. 

The current ballot formatting asks voters about the retainment of each judge individually. The amendment would stack them under one question with ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ bubbles next to each judge or justice’s name.

Support, as stated in the Blue Book, argues this makes the ballot more concise and reader-friendly, which may encourage higher voter participation.

The argument included in the Blue Book in opposition of the redesign risks confusing voters, who may be uncertain if they are voting for each individual justice or judge or in a multi-candidate election. Confusion could discourage voter participation in judicial retention questions.

Samantha Ye can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @samxye4.