Ballot initiatives drive voter engagement for November election

Joey Bunch --- The Denver Post 

Ever since Colorado decided its first ballot issue in 1912 — shooting down prohibition as a state law — voters have decided many of the state's most controversial issues, some of which are called wedge issues because of how adamantly people take sides.

And when people take sides, they're more likely to vote and, logic dictates, they're more likely to support a like-minded party and candidates on the same ballot.

Colorado, however, has bucked the logic of partisan issues benefiting their partisan allies on the ballot. And in this fall's closest races, when turnout matters most, the ballot includes four issues, three that appeal most to the right and one to the left.

"Ballot issues definitely affect who turns out," said Donetta Davidson, Colorado secretary of state for the 2000 election, one of the most wedge-issue-filled elections in the state's history. "It's not the parties that put these issues on the ballots, but usually outside groups from out of state. We always have a few people, though, who will vote on the initiative and nothing else on the ballot."

Every election cycle, national media measure the political temperature in battleground states by the issues citizens have petitioned on the ballot, and whether the issues benefit one party or the other.

But while Colorado has been a widget factory for wedge issues since 2000, citizen initiatives ranging from abortion bans to legal marijuana, and tax cuts to tax hikes, election outcomes debunk the common wisdom on their associated political sway.

Banning same-sex measures, which helped fire up Christian conservative voters, was on the ballot in 11 states, including five battleground states, in 2004. Democrats and Republicans cited it as a major boost to the re-election of President Bush, who favored a ban.

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