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Weighing in on Constitutional Rights

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Colorado State Capitol (credit: CBS)

Colorado State Capitol (credit: CBS)

Written by Dominic Dezzutti

A bill that would have had Colorado voters decide if a photo ID should be required to vote, failed in a State Senate Committee this week.

One of the dissenting votes on the panel, Democratic State Senator Bob Bacon, commented that “we don’t ask voters to weigh in on constitutional rights.”

I found that particular take a bit ironic since Colorado voters are actually asked to create and “weigh in” on constitutional rights quite often.

In 2006, Colorado voters decided that marriage was only a constitutional right of opposite gender couples and refused to make civil unions a constitutional right for same sex couples.

When it comes to the state constitution and “weighing in” on the rights therein, Colorado voters are asked to do so more often than 90% of the other states in the country.

I understand Sen. Bacon’s point, that voting is a constitutional right and that it should be above regulation by voters. However, voting in Colorado is already regulated, since voters are required to show some sort of identification when voting in person, just not a photo ID.

So if a constitutional right can indeed be regulated, Sen. Bacon’s point must be that those rights must not be regulated by voters.

I would argue that even though we are indeed a republic and not a direct democracy, voters can certainly be trusted to chime in on constitutional issues, especially in Colorado.

Amendment 2, back in 1992, did prove that voters do not always get it right, since that law was passed by voters but struck down in court. However, that should not take away from a citizenry’s right to amend their own constitution.

I would also argue that when the legislature refuses to do so, Colorado citizens get quite excited to take constitutional issues to the voters themselves through citizen initiatives.

However, on this particular issue, while it may seem like it’s ripe for a proactive citizens group to get behind, I don’t think we will see a major ballot issue from a private group.

It’s not because there isn’t a large contingent of Colorado voters that would agree that voting should have as vigorous requirements as buying certain over-the-counter cold medicine. It’s because most of Colorado voters at this point are voting by mail-in ballot.

Without a high profile voter fraud event, even the most ardent voter ID supporters would have a hard time garnering the support a ballot issue would need to pass. With fewer and fewer Colorado voters using an actual ballot box, protecting those boxes from fraud will become less and less important.

But while this issue may not be ideal for a citizen initiative, “weighing in” on constitutional issues and rights is certainly appropriate for Colorado voters, even if certain politicians may disagree.
About The Blogger

- Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti also produces the Emmy winning Colorado Inside Out, hosted by Raj Chohan, on Colorado Public Television.

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