Colorado has gone through some serious changes in the past few years: marijuana was legalized, same-sex civil unions are now the law of the land, gun control laws have became more strict, and the makeup of state and national legislators has taken a decidedly Democratic turn. Colorado voters even helped elect Barack Obama over the last two elections. Conservatives in more rural areas of the state have been left wondering exactly what happened.
As shop owner Lyle Miller told the New York Times, “I would’ve never believed the state of Colorado would become this liberal.” For urban Coloradans, the state’s increasing liberalism is long-overdue. But for residents like Miller, the rapid rate of change is terrifying. He says he fears for his grandchildren, that he wants them to have the “same heritage” he had growing up.
This election, in the name of “restoring liberty” to their homes, 11 conservative counties will vote on ballot measures that propose the northeastern corner of Colorado secede from the rest of the state to either form a 51st U.S. state, or be annexed by Colorado’s more conservative neighbor to the north, Wyoming.
It’s unlikely the push will be successful — even if the ballot measures pass, the state must hold a vote on whether to allow the counties to leave. Then the secessionists face an even more difficult battle: convincing Congress to admit them as an entirely new state, something the U.S. government hasn’t done for a breakaway state since West Virginia in 1863.
This isn’t the first time that an unlikely and bizarre initiative has made it onto Colorado ballots. It’s actually incredibly easy to get the signatures required to put your idea to a popular vote in the state — in recent elections, the ballot has often been several pages long, prompting many residents to complain about the number of issues they’re required to vote on.
For example, this year, the small Colorado town of Deer Trail will vote on whether to issue hunting licenses to shoot down unmanned drones (just in case any show up). In 2010, a Denver initiative called for the creation of an Extraterrestrial Affairs Commission to welcome any potential alien visitors to the state. It only took 4,000 signatures to land on the ballot, and unsurprisingly, it didn’t pass.
In the past, conservatives have used the process to resurrect issues that have already been repeatedly voted down. For several years in a row, fetal personhood amendments that would effectively criminalize abortion in the state have made it onto the ballot, despite failing each time. Reportedly, anti-abortion activists are hoping to try again in 2014.
On the other hand, this extremely open process is what’s made so much change over the past few years possible. Medical marijuana and legalized marijuana were both results of the same process. Ballot measures have been responsible for increased minimum wages and renewable energy advances. So even if some of the proposals have had a negative impact on the state, like the 2006 amendment banning gay marriage, the positive change may well outweigh the downsides.
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