Thirty-two Colorado Democratic state lawmakers signed a letter released Monday by the ACLU urging Coloradans to vote no on Amendment 76, a ballot measure that asks voters if the Colorado Constitution should be changed from stating that “every citizen” of the U.S. over the age of 18 can vote to “only a citizen” of the U.S. over the age of 18 can vote.
It turns out that a simple question of semantics can reverse a law that came into effect last year, and possibly have effects on voter turnout in future elections.
The letter states that the ballot measure “amounts to voter suppression.”
Both the ACLU and Vote No on 76, the official campaign in opposition to the ballot issue, emphasized that the ballot measure is intended in part to dissuade naturalized citizens from voting, who may be unsure of their eligibility to vote due to the ballot measure.
The ACLU letter suggests that part of the intention behind the ballot measure is to push a false narrative that undocumented immigrants are attempting to vote in elections:
“Our great state already has one of the most secure and accessible election systems in the country that ensures only those who meet legal requirements can vote,” the letter reads. “As lawmakers and elected officials, we know that it is already illegal for non-citizens to vote in Colorado elections, and because of that, Amendment 76 will have no effect but to present new challenges to vulnerable communities attempting to exercise their lawful right to vote.”
One of the letter’s signees, Colorado state Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez (D-Denver), is a vocal opponent to Amendment 76.
Gonzales-Gutierrez questions how this amendment may actually be implemented.
“What I really worry about too is the fact that whoever is in charge of implementing policy, that, you know, would this require additional need for identification when people are registering to vote?” Gonzales-Gutierrez told the Colorado Times Recorder.
The letter also notes that the amendment, were it to pass, would likely nullify a piece of legislation from last year: the Colorado Votes Act, which allows voters who are 17 years old but will be 18 by the general election, to vote in the primary.
Gonzales-Gutierrez told the Colorado Times Recorder that all of the improvements Colorado made in 2019 via legislation to improve voter access may be thrown out if 76 passes.
“I think we have some of the best laws in Colorado already. I’m sure that there are ways that we can strengthen them… I know that we passed a law in 2019 which was about providing more access, more ease of registering to vote like automatic voter registration,” said Gonzales-Gutierrez. “And then also allowing 16-year-olds to pre-register to vote, and then allowing 17-year-olds to vote in the primary if they are going to be 18 by the election. This amendment actually takes away that right from those young people that just were able to do that this year.”
The group responsible for getting Amendment 76 on the ballot is actually a political action committee (PAC) group from Florida called Citizen Voters, Inc., whose goal is to pass similar amendments in every state.
Citizen Voters, Inc. was founded by John and Gina Loudon–a tea party activist couple who socialize with Trump (and were also in an episode of Wife Swap).
The letter suggests that the amendment is not only an attempt to strip young voters of rights and confuse naturalized citizens but also a way to push an anti-immigrant narrative on Coloradans.
“Citizen Voters, Inc has been working state-by-state to implement similar constitutional amendments as part of a larger national anti-immigrant movement to spread unfounded and xenophobic narratives that undocumented people are fraudulently voting in elections,” the letter states.
Raquel Lane-Arellano, policy director of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition Action Fund, called the ballot issue an attempt to draw out anti-immigrant voters in a press release last month.
Even voters who aren’t necessarily anti-immigrant may end up confused about the original law surrounding voting rights, says Gonzales-Gutierrez.
“I think it probably has people questioning, like, ‘Oh, were immigrants allowed to vote before?’ You know what I mean?” Gonzales-Gutierrez told the Colorado Times Recorder. “And I think I’ve seen some of that come across on social media where people are like, ‘Well, I thought only citizens can vote!’ Like, you’re correct. That’s exactly it, that this is actually not changing that piece of our constitution. It’s semantics.”
“It’s just giving those folks that are of that anti-immigrant mindset… more fuel, I suppose,” Gonzales-Gutierrez said.
Signees of the letter include House Majority Leader Alec Garnett (D-Denver), House Majority Caucus Leader Edie Hooton (D-Boulder), Speaker of the House KC Becker (D-Boulder), and Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg (D-Boulder), among others.