"Whether to Pursue the Creation of a 51st State" Colorado County Referendum Questions (November 2013)

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Referendum ballot questions concerning "Whether to Pursue the Creation of a 51st State" were on the November ballot for voters in Weld, Logan, Sedgwick, Phillips, Washington, Yuma, Elbert, Lincoln, Kit Carson, Cheyenne and Moffat counties in Colorado.[1]

This measure asked voters if the County Commissioners of each county should work with the other counties in northeastern Colorado to pursue the division of Colorado into two states, with the new state being called "North Colorado."

The ballot question language listed below was approved by the Weld County Commissioners during their August 19, 2013 meeting. The other ten counties participating in the ballot question to initiative the secession process soon followed suit.[1][2]

There are approximately 350,000 residents in the eleven counties who voted on 51st State Initiative measures. If the movement is successful it would form the smallest state in the U.S.[3]

Election results

The following election results are preliminary and unofficial only. Stay tuned to this page for official results when they are made available on the county websites.

Phillips County Question 1A
Approveda Yes 1,114 62.2%
Yuma County Question 1A
Approveda Yes 2,008 59.6%
Elbert County Question 1A
Defeatedd No5,13757.4%
Yes 3,810 42.5%
Weld County Question 1A
Defeatedd No36,26056.4%
Yes 28,107 43.6%
Sedgwick County Question 1A
Defeatedd No58057.1%
Yes 437 42.9%
Kit Carson County Question 1A
Approveda Yes 1,452 54.2%
Cheyenne County Question 1A
Approveda Yes 570 62.2%
Lincoln County Question 1A
Defeatedd No1,00555.5%
Yes 806 44.5%
Washington County Question 1C
Approveda Yes 1,115 58.1%
Logan County Question 1D
Defeatedd No3,56656.7%
Yes 2,713 43.2%
Moffat County Question 1H
Defeatedd No2,13954.7%
Yes 1,768 45.3%
These results are from the Denver Post, "51st state question answered "yes" in 6 of 11 counties contemplating secession," November 5, 2013.


Colorado House Speaker Mark Ferrandino (D-2) responded to Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway's assertion that the 51st Initiative vote, while failing, opened up a good dialogue between rural and urban Colorado. He said, “If anything, I actually think it built up walls,” Ferrandino said in a phone interview from Denver. “I have known Sean for a while. He’s always welcome in my office, but doing this type of stuff doesn’t build bridges. It puts up walls. Saying, ‘We just want to be a different state,’ doesn’t say, ‘We want to work together to find the right policies for this state.’” Ferrandino added, “there’s a group now who are seen I think by some as more out of touch, especially when Commissioner Conway is the one pushing it and then his county doesn’t even vote for it. I think he’s out of touch with his own voters. If he’s supposed to be advocating for his constituents and he’s supposed to have a pulse on his constituents, then you would think he’d be able to get more support than that. He should talk to some of his other constituents who voted against his measure.”[4]


Several secession attempts had been initiated in the past but seldom succeeded. The most recent successful attempt to form a new state from an existing one happened in 1863, when part of Virginia split off to become West Virginia during the Civil War.[2]

Text of measure

The following ballot question was asked in each of the ten northeastern counties of Colorado and Moffat County in the north west of Colorado:

The question on the ballot:

"Shall the Board of County Commissioners of _____ County, in concert with the county commissioners of other Colorado counties, pursue becoming the 51st state of the United States of America?"[1][5]
Logo of 51st Initiative movement


Weld County Commissioner Chairman William Garcia said: “This item was initially brought to the Board by Weld County residents, and now Weld County residents will have the opportunity to vote on it this November." Garcia also stated, “The concerns of rural Coloradans have been ignored for years. The last session was the straw that broke the camel’s back for many people. They want change. They want to be heard. Policies being passed by the legislature in Denver are having negative impacts on the lives of rural Coloradans. This isn’t an ‘R’ versus ‘D’ issue; it’s much bigger than that.” County Commissioner Sean Conway made this comment about the idea of forming Northern Colorado: "I think the mere discussion of this has already had a positive impact in terms of the dialogue that I say has begun and continues to have. A win for us would be to continue this dialog."[2][1]

Some supporters of the measure said that it is important to go forward with the 51st State Initiative, even if the effort is ultimately doomed to failure. They said the effort should not be designed to actually break up Colorado, but should be focused on sending a message to lawmakers in Denver and making them aware that a large constituent of voters are extremely unhappy and wish to have their voice heard in the capital.[2]


Pam Briker, executive director of Greeley's Downtown Development Authority: "I am very opposed to this. I think there's a dead end. I think there's a lot of time, energy and money that's going to be put into something that's only going to divide us more."[6]

Josh Montoya, resident of Evans: “That’s not how we’re going to achieve change, not by crying, not by alienating ourselves from the rest of Colorado."[7]


Opponents also argued that there are certain fiscal difficulties with secession and that it would be foolish for rural Colorado to separate because residents in this area receive more in benefits and services than they pay in taxes. A study by I-News Network puts the gap at between $60 and $120 million, which breaks down to between $180 and $360 per resident.[8]

Media endorsements


The Pueblo Chieftain: The editorial board of the Pueblo Chieftain endorsed a "yes" vote on 51st State Initiative questions. It wrote, "If the secession attempt accomplishes nothing more than to strengthen the rural and conservative voice at the state Capitol, we think the proponents of the plan will have accomplished much."[2]


The Greeley Tribune: The editorial board at The Greeley Tribune wrote, "Rural discontent and estrangement are real problems, and they need serious solutions. The chimera of secession offers no such result."[9]

Reasons for Secession

Although secession would take much more than approval of county wide ballot measures, many proponents argued that even if ultimately secession is not achieved, the attempt and the county-wide referendums would grab a lot of national and state attention and may only accomplish the important task of strengthening the rural and conservative voice in the government.[2]

The editorial board of The Pueblo Chieftain had this to say about the recent secession movement:

"The most recent legislative session was an assault on rural parts of the state, with the seriously flawed voting law, expensive renewable energy mandates for rural electric providers and expanded gun restrictions raising the ire of many outside the urban centers. We, like those in Northeast Colorado, are fed up with the direction elected officials have taken the state.

If the secession attempt accomplishes nothing more than to strengthen the rural and conservative voice at the state Capitol, we think the proponents of the plan will have accomplished much."[2]

Fiscal effects

According to a report released by the I-News Network, there is $60 million to $120 million less in the state tax revenue coming from the eleven counties proposing secession than in services and funding returned to the counties. These numbers, when broken down over the population of the rural, eastern plains counties, amount to between $180 and $360 more that each resident gets back in services than they pay in taxes. Critics of the initiative said supporters should take this into account and avoid moving rashly ahead.[8]

Proponents said the report is flawed and that it underestimates revenue from oil and gas production. Jeffrey Hare, leader of the organization of the 51st State Initiative, said, "Clearly we believe that we put more money in the state coffers than we take out."[8]

Seceding Counties

Below is a map showing the status of counties in Colorado with respect to the 51st State Initiative:[10]


Green Counties Referred to ballot and adopted a resolution to join the working group
Yellow Counties Gathering signatures or looks likely Commissioners will refer to the ballot or to adopt a resolution to join the 51st State Initiative group
Blue Counties Some support shown
White Counties Have contacted the 51st State Initiative group; Under consideration
Red Counties Not interested in the effort

What must happen next

Upon approval of some of the county ballot referendums, proponents must now achieve the following things for a successful secession and the creation of "North Colorado":[2]

  • Colorado's Legislature would have to approve the plan
  • a state constitutional amendment would have to be approved in a state-wide ballot measure
  • the U.S. Congress would need to approve the secession as well


Lawyers from Greely, in Weld County, brought up legal concerns over the origins of the movement to create a 51st state. Attorneys Robert Ruyle, Stow Witwer and Chuck Dickson proposed that according to the law, only county residents, excluding the Weld County Commissioners, who are in the forefront of the movement, could initiate such a movement seeking to break away from Colorado. They wrote in a letter to the Weld County Council, "We find nothing in the law giving the Board of County Commissioners the power or authority to advocate, investigate or initiate the secession of Weld County.."[11]

Weld County Attorney Bruce Barker responded by arguing that the commissioners were allowed by the Weld County Home Rule Charter to put a measure on the ballot, without restriction to content or purpose. He also said that since the commissioners are representing the interests and good of the county, they are well within their legal rights to call for a ballot referendum.[11][12]

Alternative proposals

Philips proposal

During discussions on seceding from the state, representatives from Philips County suggested a proposal that would, instead of changing the boundaries of any state, simply change the model of representation such that more state legislators represent the rural, more conservative counties of Colorado. If adopted, the proposal would seek to amend the State Constitution to change the State Senate to have representation determined by location instead of by population, similar to the representation found in the U.S. Senate. This would give each County a representative even if its population were very small. It would increase the number of senators from 35 to 64.[13]

Critics of the measure pointed out that this proposal would still require the amendment of the Colorado Constitution and it would have difficulties passing judicial hurdles since a Supreme Court case, Reynolds vs Sims, already ruled that states cannot apportion representation in a manner other than by population. Opponents of the Phillips proposal also said that it would not do enough to remedy the harm done by the laws already passed. They alleged that the most the Phillips proposal could accomplish, if it were realized, would be to block further legislation seen as harmful to the rural counties of Colorado.[13]

Wyoming annexation

Another proposal that, in discussions, was put forward as an alternative to forming a 51st state offered the alternative for disgruntled Colorado counties of joining the rather conservative leaning Wyoming.[13]

See also

External links

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Additional reading