Abundant reasons to change ballot process

By Wednesday morning, Coloradans will know which of the multitude of proposed amendments to Colorado’s Constitution have been approved by voters — if any.

What they won’t know, in the case of several important ballot measures is who drafted them, paid to get them on the ballot and have been spending money to campaign on their behalf.

Also, many voters may wonder why we have to deal over and over with amendments similar to ones that have already been rejected.

These are reasonable questions and they point toward one conclusion: Colorado needs to reform our process for amending its Constitution. The state’s amendment process is generally regarded as one of the easiest in the nation.

So, even though Coloradans overwhelmingly rejected a so-called personhood amendment in 2008, a slightly modified version is on the ballot again this year. There have also been repeated efforts to restrict state budgeting, cut taxes, raise taxes and expand casino gambling — nearly all of which have been rejected by voters.

It’s not just repetition that’s a problem. There is the conflict between new and existing constitutional provisions, and the law of unintended consequences. Consider the interaction between the state’s TABOR Amendment, the Gallagher Amendment and Amendment 23, which few anticipated. Furthermore, budget and tax questions are policy issues that should be dealt with through statutes or legislative decisions, not enshrined in the Constitution.

For all these reasons, The Daily Sentinel has long supported efforts to make it more difficult to amend the state Constitution. The latest such effort will be introduced in the Legislature early next year, courtesy of a group called Colorado’s Future.

Club 20 President Reeves Brown is a member of the group, and he said its reform plan has three parts. First, it would mandate a 60 percent supermajority for voters to approve any constitutional amendments. It would also require that petitions to get such an amendment on the ballot would have to come equally from all seven of the state’s congressional districts, not just gathered at a few locations on the Front Range.

Additionally, the proposal from Colorado’s Future would keep it relatively easy for citizens to make statutory changes, rather than constitutional amendments. And it would make it more difficult for the Legislature to change citizens’ statutory measures.

These measures are entirely sensible. We hope they win the necessary approval in the Legislature and will be approved by voters in 2012. But other changes may be needed to ensure the amendment is transparent for voters.

For example, while Douglas Bruce and a nonprofit group he operates are believed to be primarily responsible for the three measures that would gut state and local government budgets — constitutional Amendments 60 and 61 and statutory change Proposition 101 — they have not filed the required financial disclosure documents with the Secretary of State’s office.

A group opposed to the three measures has filed a complaint with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office, but no hearing will be held until after the elections. Although Bruce and his group could face fines of $50 a day for ignoring the disclosure requirements, Secretary of State Bernie Buescher said stiffer fines may be necessary to ensure others comply in the future.

We agree. Douglas Bruce and his group have thumbed their noses at the rules that the vast majority of political organizations abide by. At the very least, when Coloradans cast their ballots on proposed constitutional amendments, they should know who’s responsible and what their motives may be.

With stricter requirements to get constitutional amendments on the ballot, and stiffer hurdles to get them passed, combined with tougher penalties for those who ignore disclosure laws, proponents of dubious or unreasonable proposed constitutional amendments may be more cautious about pushing them in the future.


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