Group Claims Dozens, Perhaps Thousands, Duped in ‘Voter Fraud’

Opponents of an amendment to ban affirmative action in Colorado delivered a stinging attack on the measure’s sponsors today – and its misleading campaign tactics. “A man from California, a man named Ward Connerly, is trying to make fools of us here in Colorado,” said former state Rep. Polly Baca.

Baca, a member of the group Unity Colorado, accused Connerly and his supporters of engaging in “voter fraud” in Colorado, and using tactics similar to those in Michigan, where voters approved an initiative in 2006 to halt programs that benefit women and people of color. The millionaire Connerly, of the group American Civil Rights Coalition, is sponsoring similar proposals in five states this year, including Colorado, which he is calling “Super Tuesday for Civil Rights.”

At an April 1 press conference at the state Capitol, Baca, along with other opponents of the measure, decried the tactics of many petition circulators, who they said misled and outright lied to people while collecting more than 128,000 signatures for Colorado’s ballot measure.

As Colorado Confidential has reported, University of Colorado at Denver student Chloe Johnson said she signed a petition after she was told it was to “end all discrimination in Colorado.” She has subsequently complained to the Colorado Secretary of State in an effort to have her name moved from the petition.

Tracy Sear, a small business owner, filed a complaint with the Secretary of State’s office after she said she witnessed two incidents involving deceptive tactics being used by petition circulators, who were pushing the proposal as a workplace equality bill and a civil rights initiative. “I was really angry because I felt I was deliberately misled,” Sear told Colorado Confidential.

At Tuesday’s press conference, Dara Burwell, who described herself as a “strong supporter of affirmative action,” said she felt “sick” after she signed the petition and subsequently learned its intent.

Others have described witnessing petition circulators pushing the amendment, using selling points like, “Do you want to ban discrimination in Colorado?”, “Do you favor equal rights for women?” and claiming the measure would ensure equal rights to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people.

Jennifer Stucka, who went through the training to be a paid petition circulator for Connerly’s anti-affirmative measure, said she was specifically told not to talk about affirmative action while collecting signatures.

And Lorena Garcia testified that she witnessed circulators at this year’s Martin Luther King, Jr. “marade” (march and parade) in Denver, who claimed that the measure had “nothing to do with affirmative action.”

Following Colorado Confidential’s five-part series last month on Connerly and his group’s tactics, the New York Times published a piece this week further detailing the misleading tactics in Colorado. One African-American woman, 78-year old Freddie Whitney, said she was told that the measure was designed to “end discrimination” in Colorado.

For his part, in the Times story Connerly rejected assertions that the public is being misled. “Affirmative action is an amorphous term. It means different things to different people,” he was quoted saying. 

But during Tuesday’s press conference, Baca, along with other Unity Colorado activists decried an “insidious pattern” of deception – and urged other Coloradans with similar stories to contact their group and to file formal complaints with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office. The “dozens” of stories that they’ve collected involving misleading tactics, Baca said, is likely the “tip of the iceberg.” Hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of people who signed the petitions may have been misled, she said.

The wording of the initiative, which was approved by Colorado’s title board, indicates the intent would be to prohibit the state “from discriminating against or granting preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin.”

It does not include the term “affirmative action,” but, if passed by Colorado voters, the measure would ban programs that are largely designed to help women and minorities in education, business and public health, including diversity and outreach programs in higher education, the recruitment of women and minorities in business and the elimination of K-12 programs that encourage girls’ and minorities’ interest in math, science and technology.

A legislative effort in Colorado to ban affirmative action, led by former state Sen. Ed Jones (R-Colorado Springs), failed in 2004. However, Connerly’s group has so far achieved success in banning affirmative action programs in three states, including California, Washington state and Michigan.

Unity Colorado’s toll-free telephone number in Colorado is 1-800-522-0925. The Colorado Secretary of State’s telephone number is 303-894-2200.

Cara DeGette is a senior fellow at Colorado Confidential and a columnist and contributing editor at The Colorado Springs Independent. E-mail her at cdegette@coloradoconfidential.com

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