‘Basically, They Lied To Me’

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Every day at the light rail stop at Auraria campus in downtown Denver, Chloe Johnson encounters a handful of petitioners gathering signatures. “Would you like to end all discrimination in Colorado?” she is asked. She certainly does. A month ago she signed the petition, and subsequently was shocked to learn that the measure is designed to obliterate all affirmative action programs in the state.Johnson, 18, is a political science major at the University of Colorado at Denver. She is also interning with state Rep. Morgan Carroll, a Democrat from Aurora. When Johnson discovered the petition that she signed is not what she was sold, she decided to petition the Secretary of State to have her name removed from the petition pushing the proposed Amendment 31. In addition to being misled, Johnson maintains she was flat-out lied to by the petitioner.

“I asked him, `Don’t we already have federal laws that ban discrimination?’ Johnson recalls. “[The petition gatherer] said, `Yes, but it will end in July.’ “

Johnson is not the only person claiming she has been misled by activists who are trying to secure 76,047 signatures from registered Colorado voters for Amendment 31. If it makes the November ballot and is passed by the voters, the constitutional amendment would eliminate all programs that benefit minorities and women, including those in education, health care and business. The proposal is being pushed by the California-based American Civil Rights Institute, which is headed by Ward Connerly, a conservative black man who has successfully passed similar laws in California, Washington state and Michigan.

“Basically they lied to me,” says Johnson. “It’s really misleading.

“I’m against the anti-affirmative-action bill, but I’m more upset with being misled. I mean, you can totally be for that if you want, but don’t BS me.

“I just want to get my name taken off the petition.”

But doing that may not be so easy. Johnson says she has contacted the Secretary of State’s office and has been told that a hearing will be set to determine what should be done. State statute specifies it is illegal for petition gatherers to make “false or misleading” statements;  however, the statute does not specifically address complaints made by citizens. Further, though Amendment 31 would ban affirmative action programs in Colorado, the wording of the ballot title itself suggests just the opposite.

This is the 37-word title, which was approved last year: “The state shall not discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting.” 

The wording has frustrated opponents of the anti-affirmative-action measure, who are now seeking to place a second measure – Amendment 61 – on the ballot to freeze in place those programs that benefit women and minorities in Colorado.

Meanwhile, Johnson’s experience has prompted Carroll to issue an alert, advising the public to “Be Careful! and “Decline to Sign!” petitions unless the voter is completely sure what the proposal is designed to do.

“There is a provision in Colorado law that prohibits misleading or misrepresentation statements, and this is a pretty freaky thing that is going on,” Carroll told Colorado Confidential.

“There’s also this whole culture of `Whats the harm? I’ll sign the petition because I believe in the democratic process and we should let the voters decide.’

“But people need to know how to navigate through it, and they should understand that they need to know what it is they’re really signing up for.”

As Carroll notes, in addition to the proposed Amendment 31, some 26 other ballot titles have already been filed with the Secretary of State’s office this year – and once something is in Colorado’s Constitution, it is extremely difficult to undo. Here is Carroll’s warning:

Decline to Sign! BE CAREFUL!

Every year the number of initiatives on the ballot grows. This year some 27 different titles have already been filed. They require a threshold number of signatures to make it on the ballot.

Some factors to consider before deciding to sign:

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