Editorial: Colorado’s constitution should be harder to amend, but 71 just goes too far

Colorado’s constitution should be a foundational document, one that provides stable governance while preserving the ability of citizens to revise it as needs — and times — change.

The constitution should define the principles of how our state is governed. It should provide the framework for our laws and reveal who we are as Coloradans — but it should also be amendable by vote of the citizens.

Unfortunately, over the past 140 years, the Colorado constitution has been too easy to amend. Citizens have amended the document a total of 155 times, compared with 27 for the U.S. Constitution.

Some of Colorado’s amendments have had nothing to do with principles of government, writing provisions into the constitution that would, perhaps, have been better left to legislators or statutory ballot measures, rather than constitutional amendments.

The initiative process has also brought great danger to the state, as witnessed by two failed amendments in 2015 that would have decimated the Colorado economy by attacking the energy industry.

Amendments passed decades ago also demonstrate the dangers of an amendment process that is too easy. The TABOR and Gallagher amendments are often cited as examples of a failed amendment process because of the unforeseen ways in which they interact.

We support making it more difficult to amend the Colorado constitution. But we believe that Amendment 71, a Nov. 8 ballot proposal that will change requirements for amending the constitution, goes too far.

Amendment 71 requires that any amendment receive 55 percent of the vote, rather than the current threshold of a simple majority. We favor that element as a reasonably higher bar, one that in itself would prevent many measures from being approved. (The 1992 TABOR amendment received only 53.68 percent of the vote and would have failed under the proposed requirement. The 1982 Gallagher amendment passed with 65.5 percent of the vote.)

But Amendment 71 also requires backers of any future amendment to collect signatures from 2 percent of registered voters in each of Colorado’s 35 Senate districts. That provision will set the bar too high, making it virtually impossible for proposed amendments to make the ballot.

Had this percentage requirement been lower, backers could have achieved their stated desire: a requirement for geographic diversity, coupled with a higher percentage vote requirement — 55 percent.

Make the constitution harder to amend. But don’t make it impossible.