There are 13 statewide proposals on this year’s ballot, and your decisions could change Colorado forever (no pressure!). To make your job as easy as possible, dear voter, we broke down every initiative—don’t worry, we’ll be brief—to let you know what you’ll see, what each ballot question means, and who is lending support or opposition.
Registered voters will receive their ballots in the mail this month (they’ll be mailed between October 15 and 19). Election day is Tuesday, November 6. Get your ballot to the County Clerk by mailing ahead of time or dropping it off at your polling location (find it here). The deadline is 7 p.m. on election day; don’t forget your coveted “I Voted” sticker.
What you’ll see: “Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado Constitution that prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime and thereby prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude in all circumstances?”
What it means: Currently, the state constitution permits slavery and involuntary servitude as punishment for convicted criminals. If passed, this amendment would strike that. A yes vote would ban slavery and indentured servitude as punishment for convicted criminals.
Who’s for it: The measure was sponsored by State Rep. Jovan Melton (D-41), Rep. Joseph Salazar (D-31), Sen. Angela Williams (D-33), and Sen. Larry Crowder (R-35). It’s backed by progressive multi-faith organization Together Colorado.
Who’s against: Basically, no one.
You should know: An amendment with the same aim appeared on the 2016 ballot and failed. Proponents point to confusing ballot language, but hope they’ve gotten it right this time. This year, a yes vote on Amendment A would amend the state constitution to ban slavery and involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime.
What you’ll see: “Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado Constitution concerning a reduction in the age qualification for a member of the general assembly from twenty-five years to twenty-one years?”
What it means: Currently, you have to be 25 years old to serve in the state legislature (also known as the General Assembly). If passed, Amendment V would lower the age requirement to 21 years.
Who’s for it: Amendment V is a bipartisan initiative, sponsored by Michael Merrifield (D-11), Vicki Marble (R-23), Jovan Melton (D-41), and Kevin Van Winkle (R-43). New Era Colorado, a nonprofit that encourages greater political participation among young people, also supports the amendment. Executive Director Lizzie Stephan summed it up for Colorado Politics, saying, “Lowering the required age for the legislature sends a message to young people across Colorado: We value your input, your perspective is missing from the conversation, so if you’re ready to lead, throw your hat into the ring.”
Who’s against: Registered opposition includes Douglas Bruce, the famed Colorado political iconoclast from Colorado Springs behind the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR). Twenty-four Republican legislators and two Democratic legislators voted against putting the amendment before voters.
You should know: Colorado is among seven states that have age requirements for state legislators at 25 years or older, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
What you’ll see: “Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado Constitution concerning a change in the format of the election ballot for judicial retention elections?”
What it means: This is a small change regarding ballot formatting. Per the state constitution, Colorado voters approve the retention of justices on the Colorado Supreme Court and Colorado Court of Appeals one question at a time. Instead of rewriting the question of retention for each justice on the ballot, if passed, Amendment W would allow county clerks and the secretary of state to write the question once for each position, followed by the justices’ names with ‘yes’ or ‘no’ boxes by each (see example below).
Who’s for it: The office of the Colorado Secretary of State, Wayne Williams, and the Colorado County Clerks Association initiated the change via the General Assembly, which has the authority to refer measures to the ballot. “[Amendment W] is intended to shorten and simplify the ballot,” said Colorado Rep. Pete Lee (D-18).
Who’s against: Opposition is extremely scant. Again, TABOR creator Douglas Bruce has registered as opposition to this measure.
What you’ll see: “Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado Constitution concerning changing the industrial hemp definition from a constitutional definition to a statutory definition?”
What it means: Currently, industrial hemp is defined in the Colorado Constitution under Amendment 64 as a genus of cannabis with THC content less than 0.3 percent of the substance’s dry weight, the same definition under federal law. If passed, Amendment X would remove the definition of industrial hemp from the state constitution, so that it could instead be defined by state statute (state laws outside of the constitution), which are more easily changed.
Who’s for it: This referral from the General Assembly was sponsored by State Sen. Stephen Fenberg (D-18), State Sen. Vicki Marble (R-23), State Rep. Dan Pabon (D-4), and State Rep. Lori Saine (R-63). Ballotopedia reports the following explanation from Sen. Fenberg: “There’s an expectation that federal law is going to loosen and now permit hemp cultivation. Since we define the THC level in our constitution, we wouldn’t be able to make nimble changes to make it consistent with federal law in the future. So, if the measure passes on the ballot, then the definition would be in statute instead of constitution and would give the industry more flexibility. If we don’t do this, there’s a good chance our industry will have a disadvantage compared to other states.”
Who’s against: There is almost no opposition. An opposition committee has been registered—called Vote No on Amendment X (Keep Hemp Legal)—but hasn’t reported any contributions or expenditures. Douglas Bruce also opposes X, and state legislators who voted against it include Rep. Paul Lundeen (R-19), Rep. Terri Carver (R-20), Rep. Larry Liston (R-16), Rep. Cole Wist (R-37), and Rep. Yeulin Willett (R-54).
You should know: Hemp is used to make textiles, paper, personal care products, food and supplements, and CBD products. Growing industrial hemp has been federally legal since 2014.
Amendments Y and Z
What you’ll see (Amendment Y): “Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado Constitution concerning a change to the way that congressional districts are drawn…” (It’s very long.)
What you’ll see (Amendment Z): “Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado Constitution concerning a change to the manner in which state senate and state house of representatives districts are drawn…”
What they mean: This pair of amendments would re-write the way Colorado draws voting districts after each census by establishing an Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission and Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission, respectively, which would then be responsible for redrawing congressional maps. Amendment Y applies to U.S. Congressional districts, Z to state legislative redistricting.
Each commission would be comprised of 12 technocrats—four commissioners registered to each of the state’s two largest political parties, and four would be unaffiliated voters. If passed, the qualifications and selection process for commissioners would be complex.
The amendments also establish specific criteria for voting districts, primarily not splitting “communities of interest” (like ethnic or political communities) and maximizing the number of politically competitive districts, vaguely defined as having the “reasonable potential” for the party affiliation of the district’s representative to change at least once in the next decade. Amendment Z adds limiting the splitting of cities for state legislature voting district maps.
Under the proposed amendments, the maps would be submitted to the Colorado Supreme Court for review and made public. A super-majority of at least eight of the 12 commissioners, including at least two unaffiliated commissioners, must approve the final map.
Who’s for them: The amendments were sponsored by Colorado House Speaker Crisanta Duran (D-5) and Minority Leader Patrick Neville (R-45). Registered committee Fair Maps Colorado published a long list of endorsing individuals and organizations, including the Pueblo Chieftan, Denver Post, and former Colorado governors Bill Ritter (Democrat) and Bill Owens (Republican).
Who’s against: Douglas Bruce has registered as opposition.
You should know: There are more unaffiliated voters in Colorado than registered Democrats or Republicans, though all three groups are fairly close in number. Lately, unaffiliated voters are leaning blue. The two largest political parties in the state are Democrats and Republicans by a landslide. No, the Libertarian party doesn’t even come close.
What you’ll see: “Shall state taxes be increased $1.6 billion annually by an amendment to the Colorado Constitution and a change to the Colorado Revised Statutes concerning funding related to preschool through high school public education…”
What it means: This initiative would increase funding for P-12 education in Colorado via a complex mixture of raised taxes (a tax bracket system) aimed at deeper pockets. It would increase income tax for those earning more than $150,000 per year, increase the corporate tax income rate, decrease the residential property tax assessment rate levied by school districts to 7 percent (down from 7.2), and decrease the assessment rate for most nonresidential properties to 24 percent (down from 29). Find an explanation of how this tax could affect you here.
Who’s for it: Registered committee Great Schools, Thriving Communities backs it, funded mainly by education professional associations, including teachers’ unions. The committee lists Colorado PTA, NAACP, and Padres y Jovenes Unidos among endorsers.
Who’s against: Ballotopedia reports the TABOR Foundation, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Libertarian-leaning think tank the Independence Institute, and a number of realtor and construction groups oppose 73. The Denver Post published an editorial in opposition, saying that as Colorado’s economy booms, so too will tax revenue, even when factoring in TABOR’s government spending limits. “Amendment 73 is a sizeable and complicated tax increase that would be added to the state constitution where it would be difficult to fix should it not work as proponents intend it to,” the editorial board writes.
You should know: Colorado spends about $9,733 per pupil per year, about $3,000 less than the national average over $12,526, according to a study by Education Week.
What you’ll see: “Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado Constitution requiring the government to award just compensation to owners of private property when a government law or regulation reduces the fair market value of the property?”
What it means: If passed, Amendment 74 would require state and local governments to compensate private property owners if their laws or regulations reduced the “fair market value” of the owners’ property.
Who’s for it: The campaign in favor of Amendment 74 (and in opposition to Proposition 112, also on the ballot this year) is backed to the tune of more than $25 million by powerful oil and gas interests, such as Anadarko and Noble Energy, via the committee Protect Colorado. It’s also backed by the Colorado Farm Bureau.
Who’s against: Pretty much everyone else. Opponents fear the requirement could fundamentally change how local governments operate and pass on enormous costs to taxpayers, because virtually all private property value is affected by routine government action. Opposition is widespread among municipal governments and conservation groups, including the Denver City Council, Club20, the Colorado Municipal League (an association of more than 200 Colorado municipalities), Conservation Colorado, and the Sierra Club of Colorado.
You should know: If passed, this amendment would make Colorado’s property law the most extreme in the nation.
What you’ll see: “Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado Constitution providing that if any candidate in a primary or general election for state office directs more than one million dollars in support of his or her own election, then every candidate for that office in the same election may accept five times the amount of campaign contributions normally allowed?”
What it means: If a wealthy candidate for a statewide office can self-fund their campaign, competing candidates would be permitted to accept larger donations from individuals, federal PACs and political committees, small donor committees, political parties, and businesses.
Who’s for it: Former State Rep. B.J. Nikkel (R-49) and former State Sen. Greg Brophy (R-1) sponsored the amendment. The Denver Post published an editorial in favor of 75, saying, “Did you know that Colorado campaign finance law allows for millionaires to spend unlimited amounts of their own money on a statewide campaign? And as a non-wealthy person, you must abide strictly by campaign finance law limits, which restricts the amount of money you can raise for your campaign to $1,150 per person? Does that strike you as creating a level playing field? We don’t think so. We believe that simply allows very wealthy individuals to ‘buy’ their election.”
Who’s against: The Durango Herald published an editorial opposing Amendment 75, saying, “What Colorado ought to do—what its future governors and Legislatures ought to do—is fight to limit the contributions that candidates may receive from anyone, including themselves—and take that fight all the way to the Supreme Court, if they must.”
You should know: Jared Polis, the Democratic candidate for governor, has contributed about $18 million of his own tech fortune to his gubernatorial run this year, which is more than the total spending of competing candidates in the 2014 gubernatorial election, according to Colorado Public Radio. Find current campaign donation limits for state offices here.
What you’ll see: “Shall the state debt be increased $3.5 billion, with a maximum payment cost of $5.2 billion, without raising taxes or fees, by a change to the Colorado Revised Statutes requiring the issuance of transportation revenue anticipation notes…”
What it means: This initiative would create $3.5 billion in bonds to fund up to 66 specific statewide transportation projects (listed here)—think road maintenance and repairs and bridge expansion, maintenance, and repairs. Proposition 109 requires that the state repay the debt from the general fund (the government’s existing cash) without raising taxes.
Who’s for it: Colorado Springs-based registered committee Fix Our Damn Roads is behind the proposition, with the support of Libertarian-leaning think tank the Independence Institute. Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers supports it, as quoted in the Colorado Springs Gazette: “[Proposition 109] spends $35 million a year (over 20 years) to bond $3.5 billion. Why would Colorado Springs vote for [Proposition 110]? (Ed note: More on 110 below.) They could get more money out of a local tax and by voting for Fix Our Damn Roads.”
Who’s against: The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce opposes the proposition, as well as Douglas Bruce. A few groups have also registered opposition, including Coloradans for Coloradans, Win the Fourth Colorado Issue Committee, and Coloradans for a Responsible Future, although none have been active in campaigning against the proposal.
You should know: Proposition 110 also aims to improve Colorado roads, but by raising taxes. According to a report by transportation research nonprofit TRIP, 40 percent of major urban roads and highways in Colorado are in poor or mediocre condition, and six percent of Colorado’s bridges are structurally deficient.
What you’ll see: “Shall state taxes be increased $766.7 million annually for a 20-year period, and state debt shall be increased $6 billion with a maximum repayment cost of $9.4 billion to pay for state and local transportation projects…”
What it means: Proposition 110 would also create funds for transportation projects (unlike 109, it does not specify those projects). Unlike 109, it would also raise taxes—specifically, the state sales tax rate would increase by 0.62 percent from 2.9 percent (2018) to 3.52 percent for 20 years, starting on January 1, 2019, through January 1, 2039. It would authorize $6 billion in bonds to fund transportation projects. Forty-five percent of revenue from this tax would go to the state for transportation projects, including debt repayment; 40 percent to local governments; and 15 percent would be allocated for multimodal transportation projects, like bike paths, sidewalks, and public transit. The state would be permitted to borrow up to $6 billion for transportation projects and limit the total repayment amount, including principal and interest, to $9.4 billion over 20 years.
Who’s for it: Let’s Go Colorado and registered committee Coloradans for Coloradans are backing the initiative. LGC lists Gov. John Hickenlooper and the mayors of Denver, Boulder, Aurora, Arvada, Lakewood, Littleton, Wheat Ridge, and more as endorsers.
Who’s against: Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers and Douglas Bruce oppose 110.
You should know: According to a report by transportation research nonprofit TRIP, 40 percent of major urban roads and highways in Colorado are in poor or mediocre condition and six percent of Colorado’s bridges are structurally deficient.
What you’ll see: “Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado Revised Statutes concerning limitations on payday lenders, and, in connection therewith, reducing allowable charges on payday loans to an annual percentage rate of no more than 36 percent?”
What it means: This initiative would limit the annual interest rate on payday loans to a yearly rate of 36 percent and eliminate all other finance charges and fees associated with payday lending.
Who’s against: Just Douglas Bruce.
You should know: Currently, Colorado limits interest on payday loans to 45 percent, but allows payday lending companies to assess fees on top of that. Permitted charges for payday loans in Colorado are as follows: Up to 20 percent of the first $300 loaned, 7.5 percent for any amount loaned above $300, and a monthly maintenance fee up to $30 per month. That’s all in addition to the loan’s interest, meaning the average annual percentage rate (APR)—the total cost of a loan, including interest and fees—could be more than the loan itself. In Colorado, the average APR on payday loans is 129 percent.
What you’ll see: “Shall there be a change to the Colorado Revised Statutes concerning a statewide minimum distance requirement for new oil and gas development, and, in connection therewith, changing existing distance requirements to require that any new oil and gas development be located at least 2,500 feet from any structure intended for human occupancy and any other area designated by the measure, the state, or a local government and authorizing the state or a local government to increase the minimum distance requirement?”
What it means: This would essentially ban new oil and gas development within a half mile of populated areas, parks, and schools.
Who’s for it: Colorado Rising for Health and Safety is pushing a grassroots effort to pass 112. The Colorado Democrats, Boulder City Council and County Commission, and Greenpeace are also listed as endorsers. Colorado Rising says the basis for the half-mile ban is a 2012 study by the Colorado School of Public Health that found that oil and gas developments “may contribute to acute and chronic health problems for those living near natural gas drilling sites.”
Who’s against: Protect Colorado, a registered committee funded to the tune of more than $25 million by oil and gas interests like Anadarko and Noble Energy, is opposing Proposition 112 and supporting Amendment 74. Protect Colorado lists among opposition to 112 mayors of Denver, Colorado Springs, Windsor, and more, plus Weld County, the Thornton City Council, the Colorado Petroleum Council, and more.
You should know: Chad Vorthmann, executive vice president of the Colorado Farm Bureau—which also opposes 112 and supports 74—said that Amendment 74 is intended to protect private property owners who would be unable to frack on their land should 112 pass. Fracking on the Front Range has been an increasingly contentious issue in recent years.
Editor’s note, 10/10/18: This article has been updated to clarify that the average APR on payday loans in Colorado is 129 percent.