Initiative 76 aims to prevent non-citizens from voting in municipal elections in Colorado
Non-citizen voting in state elections has been extinct since Arkansas became the last state to ban it in 1926. Although it is not mentioned in the United States Constitution, non-citizen voting is now explicitly prohibited in several state constitutions. However, sub-units of state governments are authorized to set their own voting rules in many home rule states, so long as they don't violate the state constitution or the U.S. Constitution.
As of September 2017, non-citizens were allowed to vote in at least 11 towns in Maryland. As of a little over a year ago, non-citizens were allowed to vote in some local elections in 11 states. In November 2018, San Francisco because the largest city in the United States to allow non-citizens, including people in the country illegally, to vote in a local election, by permitting them to vote in a school board race. This was made possible by the passage of Proposition N in San Francisco in November 2016.
Colorado Initiative 76
This week, ten Republican legislators hauled 30 boxes of signatures to the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office in downtown Denver. The signatures were in support of placing Initiative 76, which would fortify a current ban on non-citizens voting in Colorado elections, on the 2020 ballot. Those signatures will now be counted by the office’s staff to determine their validity.
The ballot initiative would slightly modify the Colorado Constitution section defining voter qualifications from reading "every citizen of the United States" to "only a citizen of the United States."
The effort is funded by Citizen Voters Inc., a national political group led John Loudon, a former Missouri state senator. Westword reports that in North Dakota in 2018, Citizen Voters helped put a similar measure on the ballot, and it passed with 66 percent of the vote. In 2020, Florida will vote on such an initiative, backed with millions of dollars from Citizen Voters.
What effect would Initiative 76 have on municipal elections in Colorado?
Denver is a home-rule city, like Boulder and many other important cities in the state. In the Westword article, a spokesperson from the Colorado Secretary of State's Office clarifies that no law currently exists that would prevent cities in that state from allowing non-citizens to vote.
Joe Stengel, a former Republican state representative who served as minority leader in the Colorado House until 2006, explained in a Grand Junction Daily Sentinel article the practical need for the ballot initiative. The problem lies in the different legal definitions of the terms citizen and resident.
Currently, the Colorado Constitution requires a voter to be a U.S. citizen and a resident of the state, but a person only has to have lived in Colorado for 22 days in order to be considered a resident. Stengel explains that some municipalities elsewhere in the United States have determined that any resident can vote in local elections, opening the way for non-citizens to cast ballots.
Amending the Colorado Constitution by replacing "every citizen of the United States" with the restrictive phrase "only a citizen of the United States" would prevent residents who aren't citizens from voting in municipal elections.
The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel adds that Citizens Voters has given the Colorado campaign nearly $1.4 million in in-kind contributions, which has primarily been used in hiring paid circulators to gather petition signatures.
Colorado Public Radio quotes Republican activist George Athanasopoulos as acknowledging that even if Initiative 76 becomes law, the whole issue is likely to end up in court, and that the initiative will probaly turn out to only be a first step among many.