Nov 6, 2020 | NEWS | By Lily Weaver | Image by Xixi Qin
Colorado Amendment 76, or the Citizenship Requirement for Voting Ballot Initiative, was approved with 68% of Colorado voters voting “yes” for the amendment as of Thursday afternoon. A “yes” vote supports amending the Colorado Constitution to state that “only a citizen” of the U.S. who is 18 years or older can vote. In contrast, a “no” vote would have opposed the amendment, thus keeping the existing language that states “every citizen” of the U.S. who is 18 years or older can vote in Colorado.
Upon first glance, Amendment 76 may seem redundant, but one crucial detail stands out: the amendment would limit Colorado voting to those who are 18 years or older. This was the case in Colorado until last year when the state legislature passed the Colorado Votes Act, signed by Gov. Jared Polis in May 2019. This law allowed 17-year-olds to vote in Colorado’s primary election, as long as they turned 18 by the next November election. Amendment 76 will take away this right — and may have further implications as well.
Amendment 76 will shut down any future legislation that attempts to expand the qualifications for who can vote in state elections. One of the ballot’s primary purposes was determining the effect of voter qualifications in local elections, which comes down to a concept dubbed “home rule.”
Home rule has been a part of the Colorado Constitution since the early 1900s and allows municipalities to bring in a charter that functions as a localized constitution. The charter allows the municipality to self-govern by, for example, customizing local elections and courts. Home rule can essentially override state law when the matter is specific to a local election. Colorado is one of more than 30 states that allows this type of local governance.
A few home rule cities, such as Chicago and San Francisco, allow non-citizens to vote in certain low-level elections. Colorado does not currently have any home rule municipalities with different voter qualifications than the state itself, and Amendment 76 seems to be designed to keep it this way.
Kevin Bommer, executive director for the nonpartisan Colorado Municipal League, said that the organization is declaring their stance on Amendment 76. The ballot does not explicitly state that it takes precedence over local control. “Could you say absolutely that [Amendment 76] doesn’t apply? No, of course not, it would be open to interpretation by the judiciary,” Bommer said. “But based on how they’ve managed that before, we feel like we’re on pretty solid ground that [Amendment 76] doesn’t apply to home rule elections.”
Hunter Knapp, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Colorado Law School, said, “given the pre-existing requirements in Colorado law, [Amendment 76] does seem to be a solution without a problem.” Current Colorado law explicitly dictates that only citizens can vote in statewide elections. Non-citizen legal residents, such as green card holders, are also unable to vote in Colorado.
Knapp believes that the amendment may have encouraged conservatives concerned with voter fraud to show up at the polls, but is unlikely to affect home rule. This is unsurprising, as Amendment 76 was introduced by Colorado Citizen Voters, a local branch of the Florida-based Citizen Voters, Inc. This national 501(c)(4) was founded by former Missouri politician John Loudon and his wife. They have backed similar legislation around the U.S. before. Loudon is also a former policy advisor for America First Policies, which heavily aligns with the Trump administration’s foreign policy goals, especially regarding immigration. Loudon’s wife is the co-chair of Women for Trump 2020.
Another supporter of Amendment 76, George Athanosopoulos, said that the measure is more “preventative,” ensuring that only U.S. citizens of a certain age can vote. Athanosopoulos says that the very purpose of Amendment 76 is to override home rule, a stance in stark contrast with Knapp and Bommer.
Athanosopoulos explains, “Home rule is great, but at the same time, we have the constitution for a reason, that is the foundational document in the state of Colorado that other statutes and ordinances are built upon, and we have to have consistency.”
On the other hand, Julian Camera, the campaign manager for the Campaign for Real Election Protection led by the ACLU of Colorado, says that the ballot measure may have more consequences than voters expect. According to Camera, the seemingly minor switch from “every citizen” to “only a citizen” will take away any future opportunity to expand voting rights. He also emphasizes that the language of the amendment itself is confusing and has the potential to incite more direct attacks on voter equality, through stricter voter I.D. laws.