Amendment 76, a ballot initiative to change voting requirements in Colorado, is passing Tuesday evening by a large margin of 62 percent as of 10 p.m.
The measure asked voters if the language of the Colorado Constitution should be altered to say that “only a citizen” of the U.S. who is 18 years of age or older can vote in Colorado, as opposed to “every citizen” of the U.S. who is 18 years of age or older.
The ballot question requires 55 percent or higher affirmative votes in order to pass.
The question on the statewide ballot stated:
“Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution requiring that to be qualified to vote at any election an individual must be a United States citizen?”
The ballot question’s vague language is likely part of the reason that the amendment was able to garner so much support, according to opponents of the amendment.
Colorado State Representative Serena Gonzalez-Guttierez (D-Denver) told the Colorado Times Recorder last month that the seemingly innocuous language may catch voters off guard and into a ‘yes’ vote.
“I think it probably has people questioning, like, ‘Oh, were immigrants allowed to vote before?’ You know what I mean?” Gonzales-Gutierrez said. “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.”
So if voters were already required to be citizens in order to vote, what will change with Amendment 76’s passing?
For starters, a piece of legislation from last year could be reversed. The Colorado Votes Act, passed in 2019 by the legislature, allowed voters who were 17 years old at the time of the Colorado primary, but who would be 18 by the general election, to vote in the primary.
Now, because only citizens over the age of 18 can vote, this could no longer be possible for 17 year-old voters, say many opponents of the measure.
Former Republican State Representative Joe Stengel, one of the amendment’s proponents, disagrees with this interpretation of the amendment.
“I don’t quite understand why [Amendment 76’s opponents] say that [Amendment 76 will reverse 17 year-olds being able to vote in a primary], simply because we didn’t amend any of the language regarding the age requirement for an electorate, and that was never part of the amendment,” Stengel told the Colorado Times Recorder. “Only part of the amendment that was changed was from ‘every citizen’ to ‘only a citizen.’ We didn’t amend the 18 year-old provision of the amendment as it is, currently, Article 7, Section 2. So none of that changed.”
Stengel also said that the age voting requirement “is down at the municipal level anyway.”
“There’s some debate, and I’ll be honest, there’s some debate as to whether the Colorado Votes Act is constitutional as to statewide elections anyway,” said Stengel. “But this amendment change did not affect that.”
Additionally, opponents say that Amendment 76 also functions as a tactic of voter suppression by scaring off naturalized citizens who may be confused by the new amendment, and may be dissuaded from showing up to the polls in the future.
The Padres & Jóvenes Unidos Action Fund–a non-profit Denver-based organization working for young voter education, immigrant rights, racial justice, and other social justice issues, sees the measure as a suppressing the vote of young people and people of color.
Stengel told the Colorado Times Recorder that Amendment 76 doesn’t actually make any significant changes, but rather clarifies the state Constitution.
“The original intent of the constitution of Colorado was that a citizen and only a citizen would be entitled to vote. This simply codifies in unambiguous language. So, nothing really changed. It’s just, now, it’s unambiguous,” said Stengel. “There won’t be any subtle interpretations by anyone. We’ll all know the ground rules, and the ground rule is that only a citizen can vote. I mean, it wasn’t an earth-shattering proposition. It just clarified with language that’s unambiguous, which was the original framers of the Colorado Constitution’s intentions.”
Gonzalez-Guttierez challenged Stengel’s claims, wondering what the purpose of the amendment is if what Stengel says is true.
“I am concerned that a proponent is saying that this amendment does not change anything. So then, my question again is why are we doing it? Why was it even proposed? Why was it even on the ballot,” Gonzalez-Guttierez told the Colorado Times Recorder. “‘Cause that’s exactly what we have been saying, is that this doesn’t change anything around the citizenship question, which is what this was aiming to address, and the language is already clear in the constitution.”
Stengel believes that voters passed the measure because of its simplicity.
“Obviously we’re pleased. And, I mean, it was a very simple initiative, you know,” Stengel said. “And I think the voters overwhelmingly, obviously, approved of that concept that, only a United States citizen should be able to vote in Colorado. Pretty simple proposition.”