KNOW YOUR VOTE: 7 things to know about Amendment 71, changing the process to amend CO constitution

DENVER – In the weeks ahead of the Nov. 8 General Election, Denver7 will be profiling most of the state ballot measures and initiatives. In this edition, we take a look at Amendment 71, which would change the process for amending the state constitution in Colorado.

Here are 7 things you need to know about Amendment 71:

1. WHAT IS THE CURRENT PROCESS FOR CHANGING THE CONSTITUTION?

Under current law, Coloradans are allowed to amend the state constitution and state statutes through ballot initiatives, in which proponents of a measure are required to gather at least 5 percent of the number of votes cast in the most recent election for the Secretary of State.

Those seeking to get a measure on the General Election ballot have six months to gather the required number of signatures from anywhere in the state (in 2016, 98,492 signatures were required) and get the signatures validated by the Secretary of State.

The state Legislature can get constitutional amendments on the ballot for voter approval if it approves a measure with a two-thirds majority vote.

The Legislature can also change state statutes without sending those changes to voters.

But once a constitutional amendment reaches the ballot, it must be approved by at least 50 percent of voters, plus one vote, as does any repeal of a portion of the constitution.

2. SIGNATURE REQUIREMENT CHANGES UNDER AMENDMENT 71

Should Amendment 71 be approved by voters, it would change the way signatures for ballot measure drives are collected.

Instead of being able to collect the required number of signatures from anywhere in the state, proponents of a measure to add a constitutional amendment would have to get signatures from at least 2 percent of the total number of registered voters in each of Colorado’s 35 Senate districts.

For instance, District 35 is comprised of 16 counties in southeastern Colorado and has 88,962 registered voters. Under an approved Amendment 71, 1,779 signatures would have to be gathered on a ballot drive and approved for the measure to go on November’s ballot.

The amendment wouldn’t change the process for drives to change state statutes, only the constitution.

3. VOTING NUMBER CHANGES UNDER AMENDMENT 71

Currently, any constitutional amendment approved by 50 percent, plus one vote, of voters in an election will become law.

But if Amendment 71 is approved, that threshold would be raised to require any constitutional amendment be approved by 55 percent of voters.

That change wouldn’t apply to the repeal of an amendment – only to changes to the constitution. In the case of a repeal, a simple majority vote would remain the threshold for approval.

4. SUPPORT FOR AMENDMENT 71

Amendment 71 is supported by Gov. John Hickenlooper, as well as former Colorado governors Bill Ritter, Bill Owens, Roy Romer and Dick Lamm.

It has also drawn support from most of the state’s chambers of commerce, the Colorado Bar Association, Visit Denver, and many of the state’s labor unions.

The primary argument in favor of a measure such as Amendment 71 is that constitutions are historically regarded as documents that should be less-prone to changes than many perceive Colorado’s constitution to be.

Since voters are the only ones who can change the constitution, some argue that state legislators can be handcuffed during lawmaking sessions in which laws need to be re-written or modified immediately.

Others argue that under current rules, the primary engine for constitutional change lies in the hands of voters in the Denver, Colorado Springs and Boulder metro areas to gather the majority of signatures, leaving more rural and less-populated areas of the state without a say in what gets on the statewide ballot.

Proponents of 71 say the changes would give a more well-rounded voice to voters statewide in what changes are made to the constitution ahead of the General Election when the proposals are voted on.

The editorial board of the Colorado Springs Independent, Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, Durango Herald and Steamboat Today have all supported 71.

5. OPPOSITION TO AMENDMENT 71

Colorado’s District 2 Congressman, Jared Polis, has opposed the measure publicly, as has the Boulder City Council, Colorado Common Cause, and the Independence Institute, among a handful of others.

Polis called the amendment a “power grab…almost entirely funded by the oil and gas industry” and voiced concerns that one senate district could veto a proposed amendment that had received the necessary support in the rest of the state in an editorial in Boulder Weekly.

The president of the Independence Institute voiced concerns that the passage of the amendment would cater only to wealthy interests.

The voting guide sent to Coloradans notes that the wills of the electorate and Legislature are sometimes different, and that current rules allow voters to have an equal voice to their elected lawmakers when it comes to changing the constitution.

Other concerns have been raised that requiring ballot drive proponents to travel to and spend time in every Senate district in the state in order to gather the necessary signatures would disenfranchise people with little money seeking constitutional changes.

Those concerns carry over into the Independence Institute’s stance that wealthy interests would be the only people or organizations able to get a proposed amendment on the ballot.

6. MONEY FLOWS INTO SUPPORT, OPPOSITION CAMPAIGNS

And campaign finance records show some of the concerns over wealthy interests taking over the state may have some legs.

The main pro-71 political action committee, Raise the Bar Colorado – Protect Our Constitution, has so far received $4,206,885.50 in contributions.

Its largest fundraiser is a pro-oil and natural gas PAC, Protecting Colorado’s Environment, Economy, and Energy Independence, which has given $2 million to Raise the Bar. Both of the contributions were made in September.

But other pro-gas and oil organizations round out the rest of the top-10 donor list to Raise the Bar.

Vital for Colorado has contributed $550,000 to Raise the Bar; the Colorado Petroleum Council has contributed $250,000 and Whiting Petroleum Corporation has contributed at least $150,000.

Pro-business organization Colorado Concern has given at least $110,000.

Raise the Bar has spent $3.4 million of that money -- $1.85 million of which was spent in September. The PAC has spent $260,505.13 in October.

It has spent more than $1 million on advertising with Studio City, California-based Sadler Strategic Media, Inc. Nearly $300,000 in consulting services has gone to Colorado Springs-based TPM, LLC.

There are four PACs that have received and spent money for anti-71 efforts, but the biggest is the Colorado League of Responsible Voters, which has taken around $618,000 this campaign season – the biggest contribution coming on Oct. 6 from the National Education Association.

The Colorado Fund for Children and Public Education gave the PAC $86,000 on Oct. 7, and Colorado AFL-CIO has contributed around $22,000 to the PAC.

Three other PACs – Raise the Rafters!, Vote No on 71, and the Citizens for Integrity Issue Committee – have raised around $25,000 to oppose the measure, of which only about $600 has been spent.

The League of Responsible Voters has spent only $12,000 of its money this year – all of which was categorized as “other” spending in campaign finance records and went to Washington, D.C.-based Lake Research Partners.

7. POLLING SHOWS CLOSE RACE

Yet despite the disparity in money funding the pro and opposition campaigns, polling in August and September showed the vote on Amendment 71 could be among the closest on this November’s ballot.

A poll conducted by Colorado-based Magellan Strategies from Aug. 29-31 found 47 percent of 500 likely voters surveyed supported the measure; 38 percent opposed it, and 15 percent were undecided.

The poll had a margin of error of 4.38 percent. The highest percentage of support came from people aged 45 to 54, and the highest levels of opposition came from voters aged 18 to 34.

And a Colorado Mesa University, Rocky Mountain PBS and Franklin & Marshal College poll conducted Sept. 14-18 found 52 percent of 540 registered Colorado voters supported Amendment 71; 17 percent opposed it, and 31 percent of those surveyed were undecided on the measure. The margin of error in the poll was 5.1 percent.

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Stay posted to Denver7 for more upcoming reports on state and local ballot initiatives Coloradans will be voting on Nov. 8. Previous initiatives covered can be found below:

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