Truth Test: Easiest constitution to amend?

Next with Kyle Clark. 9NEWS @ 6. 10/24/2016

Note: This story has been updated to include the comparison of how much time different states allow for gathering signatures to place new amendments on the ballot.

The people who want to make it harder to amend Colorado’s Constitution claim it’s too easy to make changes to our governing document.

In a television ad airing across the state, former Colorado Attorney General John Suthers says our state constitution is “the easiest in America to amend.”

That’s a bold claim for the Raise the Bar campaign, and it’s an assertion that doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.

CLAIM: Colorado’s constitution is the easiest to amend in the country
VERDICT: Debatable

The trouble with superlatives like best, easiest and worst is that they often hinge on someone’s opinion or a specific set of criteria.

The best pizza or football team in my opinion probably isn’t the best in your mind.

And that’s exactly the problem with this claim.

THE STATE WITH THE MOST AMENDMENTS

If you decided that the state with the easiest constitution to amend was the one with the most amendments, then your answer would be Alabama.
The Heart of Dixie State blows everyone else out of the water with 892 amendments to its constitution.

Colorado is actually in the middle of the pack when it comes to the number of amendments.

The Centennial State has made 152 changes and the national average is 115.

MOST TIME TO COLLECT SIGNATURES

One way to make it harder to amend the constitution is to shorten the window of time in which petitioners can gather signatures.

By this measure, Arkansas and Ohio are among the easiest states because they have no time limit on gathering signatures. Supporters can spend years if they want to. Petitioners just need to submit signatures by a set deadline in each state.

Many states give petitioners one year to collect signatures. Colorado is on the shorter side. We give petitioners 6 months.

But the Centennial State doesn’t have the shortest window, Oklahoma gives its residences 90 days.

THE STATE WITH THE MOST WAYS TO AMEND

If you decided the state with the easiest constitution to amend was the one with the most ways to bring an amendment up for consideration, then your answer would be Florida.

The Sunshine State not only has an initiative and referendum process like Colorado, but it also requires its government to meet every 20 years for something called the Florida Constitution Revision Commission. The commission gets together and recommends amendments that get sent to the voters on a statewide ballot.

The Florida Taxation and Budget Reform Commission – which is the only one of its kind in the U.S. – also meets every 20 years and recommends amendments.

And Floridians can vote for a constitutional convention whenever they want.

HOW BIG OF A MAJORITY?

If you think the state with the easiest constitution to amend is the one that asks the least number of people to vote for an amendment, then Colorado sits with dozens of other states that require a simple majority.

It’s worth noting that Colorado lawmakers have a tougher time referring measures to the ballot than their counterparts. Arkansas, for example, requires a simple majority to send a legislative referral while Colorado lawmakers need two-thirds of each chamber.

HOW MANY SIGNATURES?

If you think a state constitution is the easiest to amend because it requires the smallest relative number of signatures to get on the ballot, then your answer would be Colorado.

We ask petitioners to gather signatures from registered voters that total five percent of the total number of votes cast in the most recent election for Secretary of State.

Other states use the governor’s race or presidential race where more people tend to vote, and they often require a higher percentage like eight or 10.

Amendment 71 wouldn’t change the number of signatures a campaign needs, but it would change where those signatures have to come from.

Petitioners would have to go to each of the state’s 35 senate districts and collect signatures from 2 percent of their population.

And once a question makes it to the ballot, campaigns would have to convince 55 percent of voters to support their cause rather than the current simple majority required.

BOTTOM LINE: Colorado’s Constitution is among the easier to amend in the country, but it doesn’t stand out as the easiest. You can find states with significantly more amendments and more avenues to pass amendments than Colorado has.

Copyright 2016 KUSA


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