As ballot grows in Colorado, attention spans shrink
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EDWARDS — If you’re a Colorado voter, you’ve got a lot to learn.
That’s the message from Count Me In!, a non-partisan civic engagement group which visited Eagle County on Tuesday, Oct. 2, in an effort to encourage more participation in the many propositions and amendments which appear on the Colorado ballot.
“It used to be we would have four or five statewide ballot initiatives, but in the last few years we’ve seen upwards of 12 to 15,” said volunteer Sue Catterall. “It really is a privilege to vote … but it doesn’t always feel like a privilege, especially now when we’re heavy into campaign season.”
Count Me In! was started in 2016, when there were nine statewide ballot measures.
“We were doing some research and saw that between 8 and 12 percent of voters dropped off after they voted for the candidates, and didn’t actually vote all the way down the ballot,” Caitlin Schneider, a public engagement coordinator with Count Me In!, said on Tuesday, Oct. 2.
After seeing that there were 13 statewide ballot measures on the 2018 ballot, “we thought it was essential that Count Me In! came back,” Schneider said.
Schneider is an outreach director with the Colorado Fiscal Institute and is the acting project manager for the Count Me In! effort. The Colorado Fiscal Institute is one of several steering committee bodies spearheading Count Me In!, along with the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, the Colorado Civic Engagement Roundtable, Great Education Colorado and Small Business Majority.
Schneider said those groups share a set of beliefs regarding civic engagement.
“The best decisions come from informed and educated voters, and our informed choices create thriving communities,” Schneider said.
‘WE’RE THE BUDGET MAKERS’
The Northwest Colorado Council of Governments joined forces with the Vail Valley Partnership to bring Count Me In! to Eagle County on Tuesday.
The council of governments, in an email, said the Count Me In! effort is important because Colorado voters have a “unique responsibility to directly vote on policies affecting their communities.”
Not all states have a citizens’ initiative process, where measures can come from both the state legislature and the electorate. In Colorado, citizens can present an issue directly to voters without involving the legislature, through a process of signature gathering.
Colorado is also unique in the fact that the state is governed by what is known as the taxpayer bill of rights, where voters have the final say in passing new taxes.
“We’re the budget makers … so it’s really important and crucial for Coloradans to stay informed, and know exactly what we’re voting on,” Schneider said.
SHORT, OBJECTIVE SUMMARY
In its presentations and on its website, Count Me In! breaks down each ballot measure with its own summary, which tries to put in simpler terms than the actual ballot question. Voters are expected to leave the site with a better understanding of what a “yes” or “no” vote actually means.
On the ballot, the language “Appears in all caps, it’s long and in legalese,” Schneider said. “It’s confusing … so I think that’s a deterrent.”
Count Me In! counters the ballot language with a short, objective summary. The site checks in with the Colorado Secretary of State on a regular basis, providing links to opposition and support groups for each ballot measure as those issue committees are registered. Count Me In! provides facts only — for opinions, you’re bounced off the site to the issue committee’s own page.
The site has resources for questions and support both over the phone and online, and also provides links for voters to find their current voter registration status and polling place.
“It’s too hard to spend a couple hours going through reading the technical language of the ballot measures,” Catterall said. “That’s why Count Me In! is so great, they net it out into simple terms that are easier to understand.”
Catterall became involved as a volunteer in 2018 after seeing the difference Count Me In! made in 2016.
“I think people just feel overwhelmed, and it’s just too much and they don’t see the direct connection to their communities, even though we know (statewide ballot measures) really affect their communities,” Catterall said. “If we stop voting because we’re overwhelmed or we’re tired of it, then the rich and powerful will have a greater voice, and that’s a plutocracy. In America, we’re a democracy.”