Colorado Votes On A Ballot Measure To Make It Harder To Pass Ballot Measures Voters can amend their state's constitution: Think legalization of pot. But some Coloradans say citizen initiatives are out of control, and a well-funded push is underway to raise the bar.

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Colorado Votes On A Ballot Measure To Make It Harder To Pass Ballot Measures

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Voters in 26 states can change state laws through ballot measures. Sometimes they can make sweeping changes, like gay marriage or legalizing pot. But some people say citizen initiatives are out of control. In Colorado, there's both momentum and money for a constitutional amendment to make it harder to amend the Constitution. From Colorado Public Radio, Ben Markus reports.

BEN MARKUS, BYLINE: These days, there's no better pitchman for a cause in Colorado than John Elway. Just a few months ago, the former quarterback and now Broncos executive was hoisting a Super Bowl trophy in front of a million people in Denver. Now he's on TV and social media with this...

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JOHN ELWAY: Most people know me as a football guy, but I'm a Coloradan first. I love this state, and I'm worried about the games being played with our Constitution.

MARKUS: In the commercial, he rattles off just a few of the proposed amendments on this year's ballot - weighty stuff, like universal health care and increasing the minimum wage.

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ELWAY: Even if you support these things, they should not be in our Constitution. Enough is enough. Let's take our state back and our constitution. Amendment 71...

MARKUS: Not mentioned is that the state's oil and gas industry paid for the ad. Critics contend that the companies are tired of fighting ballot measures to ban fracking, although the industry disputes that. What is clear is businesses and many politicians see an opportunity to limit some of the annual electoral craziness that leads to long and confusing ballots. Josh Penry, a former Republican lawmaker, is helping lead the charge.

JOSH PENRY: You don't want sort of the fad of the moment to be in the Constitution forever.

MARKUS: So if voters pass Amendment 71, it would require future amendments to get at least 55 percent of the vote, and most controversially, it would require signatures from voters in all of Colorado State Senate districts.

PENRY: To change the Constitution, you're going to have to collect signatures across the state. There is no such requirement now, and groups have a tendency to collect signatures only in Denver and Boulder.

MARKUS: And Denver and Boulder are the most liberal cities in Colorado. But Elena Nunez with the liberal advocacy group Common Cause says, right now, it can cost about a million dollars to gather the signatures to put a measure on the ballot. She thinks Amendment 71 could double or triple that cost. And...

ELENA NUNEZ: It would allow one Senate district, so about 3 percent of the population, to block a reform from making the ballot that's supported by the rest of the state.

MARKUS: Even popular constitutional amendments in Colorado, like legalized marijuana or limits on taxes, might never have become law. Denver voter Kevin Hoskins, for one, doesn't want to give up the right to make those decisions, though he admits the 11 state and local ballot questions this year were a bit much.

KEVIN HOSKINS: Yeah, that - it was a lengthy process because I sit down, and I thought it would only take me just a couple of minutes to fill out the ballot, and then I ended up spending, like, an hour.

MARKUS: Hoskins says, thankfully, Colorado's elections are primarily by mail, so he looked up the information about each measure on his computer as he filled out the ballot. Eric Sondermann thinks voters have too many choices. But the independent political analyst says this proposal would make it almost impossible to change the Constitution.

ERIC SONDERMANN: There's no argument that the bar should be raised, but the question is to what level do you raise it? It strikes me that this one takes that bar and puts it on stilts.

MARKUS: Voters in dozens of states will decide on 157 different ballot measures on Election Day. It's the most citizen initiatives in at least 16 years. So if Colorado can successfully limit them, other states may think of following suit. For NPR News, I'm Ben Markus in Denver.

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