Opinion | Bruce Butler: Why is this on the ballot?

This past week Summit County voters received their copy of the 2022 State Ballot Information Booklet, affectionately known as the “blue book.” It is a 110-page manual of word salad intended to educate voters and affirm democracy. Granted, not all 110 pages apply to Summit County, and it does not make sense to print a statewide book that is tailored to each county, but I suspect the overwhelming particulars in the guide create more confusion, and even apathy among voters, rather than informing and educating voters. But there’s more! Summit County — and voters all-across the state — will also receive a supplemental mailing explaining the local ballot issues.

Assuming voters take their responsibility seriously, they must dedicate 45-90 minutes of their time to decode legalize, try to make sense of cryptic explanations, fill out their ballot, and return their ballot to the county clerk by U.S. mail or drop box. This is no way to govern! Easy access to the ballot it is one of the reasons why Colorado is on the California highway to … disfunction. Absent an extraordinarily dedicated personal effort to be informed, most voters are going to be swayed by biased TV ads, social media pop-ups, or simply not vote down ballot at all. None of these outcomes are good for the welfare of Colorado or representative government in general.

I have steadfastly encouraged readers to thoughtfully, and respectfully, discuss issues, rather than tell them how to vote. 

For what it’s worth, I think it is a small ask of taxpayers to provide property tax relief for disabled veterans and Gold Star families as embodied in Amendment E on the ballot. I understand it requires a constitutional amendment to amend the constitution, but the better question is, “Why is property tax policy in the Colorado Constitution to begin with?”

Likewise, I am a longtime member of the Summit County Elks and the Rotary Club of Summit County, both of which raise a lot of money to benefit the community through charitable gaming activities, but how long a particular nonprofit has been in existence, as embodied in Amendment F, and “gaming” in general, should not require a constitutional amendment for modifications. There is a lot of “devil” in the details here. The law should be the result of legislative process, not an ill-informed plebiscite! These issues should not be in the Colorado constitution nor on the ballot as a legislative bypass or a way to offload representative accountability.

The state constitution, like the U.S. Constitution, should be a succinct framework of basic government hierarchy and structure: a description of the powers of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. The separation of government responsibilities, the limits of government, and the unalienable rights of the citizens. There should be qualifications for who may serve in elected office, how to remove elected officials from public office, and how to amend the constitution. This should be a high threshold requiring at least 67% of the voting public to ensure it is genuine public will and not popular emotion. It should never contain mandatory spending requirements and tax or social policy.

This is not the case in Colorado. For those who are old enough to remember this reference, a printout of the Colorado constitution is the size of the Manhattan, New York, phone book in the late 1980s. This is ridiculous and only serves to devalue the state constitution, undermine individual rights and protections, and debase our vital institutions.

A few years ago, Colorado voters passed a constitutional amendment that made it more difficult to file and pass new amendments, which is why there are more statutory propositions than constitutional amendments on the ballot today. This is a positive development, but the easy ability to punt thorny political issues to well-funded special interest groups and onto the general election ballot and escape representative accountability is a failure of the state legislature and ultimately a disservice to citizens of Colorado. 

Legendary football coach Bill Parcells famously said, “You are what your record says you are.” The ideal ballot initiative for Colorado voters is to clean out all the gunk that does not belong in the state constitution. Vote yes for that. Maybe in 2024?

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