Jerry Kopel

I'm going to vote for Referendum A, the constitutional amendment placed on the ballot by the legislature which requires a 60 percent majority to amend the Colorado constitution.

I don't expect the amendment to pass. There are a lot of yahoos who think a constitution is the perfect junkyard in which to dump their favorite toy-of-the-month, and that the constitution should be as easy to change as diapers.

It is a lot harder to amend the federal constitution than to amend the Colorado constitution. On the federal level, the precedent has been a positive vote from two-thirds of the House and Senate, followed by ratification from three-fourths of the 50 state legislatures. That is 38 out of 50 states.

In Colorado it only takes a majority of the votes cast ON THAT ISSUE to amend the state constitution. Some other heavily populated states require a majority of the total electors VOTING in the election, to amend their constitution. That's quite a difference.

Example: One million votes cast, but only 800,000 on the constitutional amendment. In Colorado, 400,001 votes amends the constitution. In a state requiring a majority of the total votes cast, 500,001 votes, slightly more than 62 percent of the 800,000 votes cast, amends the constitution.

The U.S. Constitution has been in effect since 1787, or two hundred and nine years. Colorado's constitution is one hundred and twenty years old. The federal constitution has been amended 18 times (the first 10 amendments were one package called the Bill of Rights).

The Colorado constitution has been amended 113 times since 1878. From 1878 through 1910, there were 20 amendments (one of which permitted initiative and referendum), from 1912 through 1962, 36 amendments, and from 1964 through 1994, there were 57 amendments.

More than HALF of the amendments have come about in the most recent 30 years, and fewer than half in the prior 88 years.

The reason why constitutional amendments seem to be preferred as the "way to go" is because it DOES take the same percentage of votes. A referred or initiated statute "might" violate some part of the constitution, but a constitutional amendment begins life on the same level field as the rest of the constitution.

Of the 57 constitutional amendments adopted since 1964, many could easily have been proposed and passed as statutes. Referendum A does not change the majority vote for passage of initiated or referred statutes.

According to the Colorado Legislative Council, Colorado is one of only twenty states that uses the initiative as a way to amend the constitution, statutes, or both. That means sixty percent of the states leave it to the legislature to place measures on the ballot.

When elected officials take office in Colorado they "take an oath or affidavit to support the constitution of the United States and of the state of Colorado..." Our oath says nothing about "supporting our statutes". Requiring the same percentage of votes to amend the constitution as it takes to pass a referred law to make a butterfly the official state insect makes a mockery of the oath.

In preparing this column, I went back to the 1877 compilation of Colorado statutes and constitutions and checked out how many pages were there (obviously in the same size print and margin) for the federal and state constitutions. The comparison was: U.S. 15 pages, Colorado 52 pages. That is a ratio of 3.5 to l.

In the 1995 softcover edition of the Colorado statutes, using the same smaller size print and margins, the U.S. Constitution is slightly over nine pages and the state constitution is 59 pages. That is a ratio of 6.5 to 1.

Thus Colorado's constitution, because of amendments, has nearly doubled in size compared to the federal constitution and its amendments in the past 109 years. That's quite a change, a careless and reckless abuse of the permitted system.


Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House of Representatives.

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