Colorado Citizen-Initiated State Laws, Referendum O (2008)

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The Colorado Citizen-Initiated State Laws Referendum, also known as the Referendum O, was on the November 2008 ballot in Colorado as a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment, where it was defeated. Known as Senate Concurrent Resolution 3, the measure would have altered the requirements for initiatives in Colorado. The measure would have made it more difficult for citizens to place an initiated constitutional amendment on the Colorado ballot for voter approval, but easier to call a vote on an initiated state statute.[1][2]

Election results

Colorado Referendum O (2008)
Defeatedd No1,110,87752.50%
Yes 1,004,925 47.50%

Election results via: The Colorado Secretary of State

Text of measure

The language appeared on the ballot as:[2][3]

Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution concerning ballot initiatives, and, in connection therewith, increasing the number of signatures required for a proposed initiative to amend the state constitution; reducing the number of signatures required for a proposed statutory initiative; requiring a minimum number of signatures for a proposed initiative to amend the state constitution to be gathered from residents of each congressional district in the state; increasing the time allowed to gather signatures for a proposed statutory initiative; modifying the review of initiative petitions; establishing a filing deadline for proposed initiatives to amend the state constitution; and requiring a two-thirds vote of all members elected to each house of the general assembly to amend, repeal, or supersede any law enacted by an initiative for a period of five years after the law becomes effective?[4]

Full text

The full text of the bill proposed by Referendum O is available here.

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Specific provisions

If passed, the measure would have:

  • Increased the signature requirement for constitutional amendments by more than 15,000
  • Reduced the signature requirement for placing a new state law on the ballot
  • Added a distribution requirement, requiring at least 8% of petition signatures to be gathered in each congressional district
  • Established an earlier deadline for filing initiatives.



The measure was supported by a bipartisan group of lawmakers. The committee campaigning for the measure was called Citizens for Constitutional Common Sense.

Supporters included::

  • Governor Bill Ritter
  • Club 20[5]
  • Action 22
  • Progressive 15
  • AARP
  • Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce
  • Colorado Municipal League
  • Colorado Association of School Boards
  • Green Industries of Colorado

Editorial Support:

  • Rocky Mountain News[6]
  • Aspen Times[1]
  • Reporter Herald

Arguments in favor

Notable arguments made in support included:

  • Referendum O encourages citizens to propose statutory rather than constitutional initiatives. Statutory initiatives preserve the citizens' right to initiate laws, while giving the legislature flexibility to react when laws require clarification or when problems or unforeseen circumstances arise.
  • Because the requirements for proposing constitutional initiatives are no different than the requirements for proposing statutory initiatives, the constitution is susceptible to detailed provisions that cannot be changed without another election.
  • Requiring more signatures for constitutional initiatives makes it more difficult to initiate constitutional amendments, which may make the Colorado Constitution a more enduring framework for state government.
  • Requiring that signatures for constitutional initiatives be gathered from each congressional district ensures that citizens from across the state support measures before they are placed on the ballot, not just those in highly populated areas.
  • Allowing the public and state legislators to comment on an initiative at a public meeting early in the process makes the review process more open and helps citizens gain a better understanding of the measure, as well as avoid unintended consequences.
  • The two-thirds legislative approval requirement is stringent enough to protect voter intent, but still allows for non-controversial changes that clarify, correct, or improve a statute.


Citizens for Constitutional Common Sense raised $19,100 in August 2008 to promote the measure.[7] The group raised an additional $79,000 in the first two weeks of September. The Colorado Dairy Farmers and Rocky Mountain Prestress each gave the group $10,000.[8]



Opponents included:

Arguments against

Notable arguments made in opposition included:

  • Referendum O makes it more difficult and expensive for citizens to exercise their right to initiate constitutional changes.
  • Requiring more signatures to qualify for the ballot restricts the public's ability to address issues that the legislature, courts, and executive branch have not addressed to the public's satisfaction or in which government officials have a vested interest.
  • The protections in Referendum O for statutory initiatives may not be sufficient to preserve voter-approved statutes from changes by the legislature.
  • The requirement to collect a certain number of signatures from each congressional district could enable one part of the state to block a change favored by the rest of the state.
  • The geographic diversity requirement would also make petitions too difficult for grassroots groups, while wealthy out-of-state campaigns could afford it.
  • It becomes more difficult to meet the signature requirement if the number of congressional districts increases.
  • Requiring constitutional initiatives to be filed halfway through the legislative session limits the ability of citizens to respond to action, or inaction, by the legislature on issues of importance to the voters.
  • Referendum O is an attempt to fix a perceived problem where none actually exists. In the past 50 years, voters have rejected almost two-thirds of all citizen-initiated constitutional amendments.

See also

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