Colorado voters set new record for midterm turnout


Colorado voters had a word for a host of major measures on their general election ballot: No.

Proposals to restrict oil and gas development, tax the rich to fund schools, pay back property owners for the cost of regulation, and lower the minimum age for state lawmakers were all defeated in the election that ended Tuesday, as were two competing plans to finance transportation improvements.

But voters said “yes” to a pair of reforms intended to end gerrymandering of electoral districts, as well as to a proposition to cap interest rates and fees on payday loans.

And the fate of one constitutional measure — Amendment W — was still up in the air two days after the election because of a new, higher threshold for passage of amendments.

Among the questions rejected by voters was Proposition 112 — easily the most controversial measure on the 2018 ballot, if the spending against it by the oil and gas industry was any indication.

The measure would have established a 2,500-foot setback between occupied buildings and new oil and gas development, up from the current buffer of 500 feet from homes and 1,000 feet from schools.

The oil and gas industry claimed the measure would have devastated the industry and the state economy; proponents claimed the setback distance was based on health and safety studies. Neither of the candidates for governor supported it.

In unofficial returns as of Thursday morning, the measure had lost with 56 percent disapproval.

Those who advocated against 112 celebrated its apparent defeat on election night.

“This is a great night for our state,” said Tracee Bentley, executive director of the Colorado Petroleum Council. “Colorado plays a leading role in America’s energy revolution, and our state has spoken loud and clear that we recognize the importance of the industry to the state’s economic well-being.”

“We’re incredibly grateful that Colorado voted against Proposition 112 tonight,” said Neil Ray of the Colorado Alliance of Mineral and Royalty Owners. “Beyond the devastating economic impact, Proposition 112 would have stripped mineral owners of their property rights by placing large swaths of the state off limits for mineral development.”

Kelly Nordini, executive director of Conservation Colorado, pointed to money as the cause of 112’s defeat.

“Let’s be clear: The oil and gas industry spent at least $30 million to beat this measure by fear-mongering about jobs,” she said. “No one in this state would be foolish enough to say that tonight’s result means that voters want an oil and gas rig closer to their homes, schools or hospitals. The fact remains: The oil and gas problem in this state has not been solved.”

In all, Colorado had 13 statewide ballot measures this year.

The General Assembly forwarded six measures for the consideration of voters statewide, and another seven initiatives made their way via petition onto the general election ballot.

While three of the 13 statewide ballot measures are “statutory measures” calling for rewriting Colorado law, the nine others asked voters to amend the state constitution. Six of those proposed amendments came from the legislature; the other three are “citizen initiatives,” although big money (and in some cases, big corporations) are responsible for a lot of their support.

All of the constitutional measures required at least 55 percent voter approval each in order to pass, the result of changes made to the state Constitution under 2016’s Amendment 71. Statutory measures pass with a simple-majority “yes” vote.

Here’s a look at other statewide measures, and how they were faring as of Thursday morning, with some votes still to be counted.

Constitutional amendments from the legislature

Amendment V lost with a 65 percent no vote. It would have lowered the minimum age for service in the legislature from 25 to 21 years of age. It would have put the state in line with 43 other states that allow House representatives to be somewhere between ages 18 to 21. About half of the states allow senators to be that same age.

The only listed opponent for the ballot measure was Douglas Bruce, author of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

Amendment W was above the 55 percent “yes” level on election night, but by Wednesday afternoon has dropped to 53 percent approval and stood at 53.3 percent approval Thursday morning That could make it the first ballot measure to be a victim of 2016’s Amendment 71, aka, Raise the Bar, which raised the limit for approval on amendments to the state constitution to 55 percent.

The measure is something of a technicality dealing with judicial retention. Currently, county clerks, when putting together the ballot, have to write a separate question for each judge who is up for retention. Under Amendment W, that would be shortened slightly by grouping judges under one question per court.

Below is an example from the Blue Book:

Proponents, including the Colorado County Clerks Association, claimed such a change could lower printing costs, although the state Judicial Branch maintains it could be confusing to the point that voters might skip judicial retention questions.

Amendment X appears to have passed, with a 61 percent approval vote as of early Thursday. It takes the definition of industrial hemp out of the state constitution, leaving the definition up to state or federal law. Hemp is a version of cannabis with almost no THC, the main psychoactive ingredient of marijuana, and is used in products including textiles and food products. A definition of industrial hemp, as well as its THC level, was placed in the state constitution in 2012 under Amendment 64, which legalized recreational marijuana.

Proponents claimed that taking the definition of hemp out of the constitution would put Colorado’s definition in line with any future changes made at the federal level. Opponents, including marijuana lawyer Rob Corry, said the definition should remain in the constitution. Corry said that the current definition provides hemp growers with certainty.

Amendments Y and Z, which both won with better than 70 percent approval, deal with how the state draws its congressional and legislative maps. Currently, the General Assembly draws those maps. This has resulted in court battles in which judges eventually drew the maps, both after the 2000 and 2010 censuses.

Amendment Y pertains to drawing of congressional maps. This becomes even more important because Colorado is likely to add an eighth congressional seat after the 2020 census. Amendment Z applies to the state maps for the 35 Senate seats and 65 House seats.

Each amendment will set up a committee of a dozen commissioners to redraw the maps. Four of the members will be from the largest political party, another four from the second largest, and the last four will be unaffiliated. That’s led to complaints that minor parties would be excluded from the process.

Under both measures, eight of the 12 commissioners will have to approve new maps.

Amendment A also won with a 65 percent yes vote. It’s a second bite at the apple to remove language allowing “slavery” as punishment for a crime from the state constitution. A similar measure in 2016 lost by just six-tenths of 1 percent, about 16,000 votes short out of 2.5 million votes cast. But almost 280,000 of those voters didn’t vote on the 2016 measure, which may have been due to confusion about what the measure would do. It had no listed opposition.

Constitutional amendments from citizens

Amendment 73 lost, with 55 percent of voters against it. It was sponsored by a group called Great Schools, Thriving Communities and sought to raise $1.6 billion for public K-12 education funding through a tax increase on people with incomes above $150,000 per year, along with an increase in the corporate tax rate.

The committee raised $1.25 million through Oct. 29 to support the measure, with donations from a number of education groups and teachers unions. Its chief opponents were Bruce, former state Rep. Jim Kerr and a group called Blank Check, Blatant Deception, which raised $1.4 million, mostly from the oil and gas industry through the Colorado Economic Leadership Fund, and the pro-voucher group Ready Colorado, which doesn’t disclose its donors through TRACER, the secretary of state’s campaign finance system.

Amendment 74 lost with a 54 percent “no” vote. It would have required state or local governments to reimburse property owners when new regulations have the effect of lowering property values.

Its public face was the Colorado Farm Bureau, but the real power behind it was the oil and gas industry, which put $11 million into the Committee for Colorado’s Shared Heritage. The measure’s proponents were criticized for mailers that falsely claimed The Colorado Springs Gazette’s editorial board still endorsed the measure; in fact the board reversed its earlier support.

Amendment 74 was opposed by the Colorado Municipal League, Colorado Counties Inc., Club 20, Action 22 and a host of other civic organizations. A committee formed to oppose the measure, Save Our Neighborhoods, raised $6.5 million, mostly from groups like Conservation Colorado and the League of Conservation Voters.

Aaron Bly, who heads Save Our Neighborhoods, told Colorado Politics on election night: “We are thrilled that Coloradans saw through the deception of the ballot measure. We were all worried about the simplicity of the language — it would have added only six words to the Constitution — but we were ecstatic that we were able to get our message out there.”

Bly pointed to the coalition of groups opposed to the measure that don’t normally work together, as well as bipartisan opposition led by Republicans like Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers and Democrats like Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Amendment 75, which lost with 66 percent opposed, would have changed contribution limits when candidates contribute or loan $1 million or more of their own funds to their campaigns. The contribution limits would have increased five times for the candidate’s opponent(s).

The measure was backed by former state Rep. BJ Nikkel of Loveland and former state Sen. Greg Brophy of Wray. A committee set up to support the measure, Stop Buying Our Elections, raised just over $13,000, including a last-minute $10,000 contribution from Extraction Oil and Gas. The measure appeared to have only token opposition, primarily from Bruce.

Statutory measures

Proposition 109, defeated with a 61 percent no vote, would have directed the state to raise $3.5 billion in bond for 66 identified highway projects. The bonds would have been paid for with existing state revenues, up to as much as $250 million per year.

Its primary backer and funder, to the tune of $635,000, was the Independence Institute, which doesn’t disclose its donors through TRACER. However, SourceWatch claims the institute gets its money from the National Rifle Association and Donors Capital Fund, which is backed in part by Koch Industries.

Opponents claimed the measure would have required the state to take money from other priorities, such as education and health care, when the state hits another economic downturn.

Proposition 110, seen as an alternative to 109, was rejected by 60 percent of voters. It would have increased the state sales tax by 6 cents on a $10 purchase, and used those dollars to finance $6 billion of the state’s $9 billion transportation wish list of about 137 projects. Proponents claimed the measure would have created a long-term funding solution for transportation; opponents, including the Independence Institute, said a tax increase is unnecessary.

Coloradans for Coloradans raised $7 million to combat Proposition 109 and back Proposition 110. Their donors included the construction and real-estate industries.

Proposition 111, an overwhelming winner with 77 percent approval, will cap interest rates and fees on payday loans to 36 percent, down from the high of 180 percent.

Its primary proponents appeared to be the progressive Sixteen Thirty Fund, which contributed most of the $2.6 million raised by its issue committee, Coloradans to Stop Predatory Payday Loans. The fund has been active in Colorado since 2013, when it backed efforts to fight a recall of two Democratic state senators over gun control legislation. The Center for Responsible Lending also supported Proposition 111.

While the payday loan industry opposed the proposition, it did not fund opposition.

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