Colorado voters reject affirmative action ban
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
DENVER ” Colorado voters have rejected a proposal to ban state affirmative action programs, becoming the first state in the nation to say “No” to a ballot measure passed by four other states.
Amendment 46 would have barred state officials from considering race or gender in decisions on hiring, contracting and admissions to public colleges and universities.
Voters in Nebraska approved a similar measure in this week’s election. California, Michigan and Washington also have approved affirmative action bans.
In Colorado, the proposal would have amended the state constitution to declare that the state may not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, individuals or groups based on race, color, sex, ethnicity or national origin.
The ballot language didn’t specifically mention affirmative action.
Initially, Amendment 46 seemed headed for easy passage. Polls suggested it had support among a wide range of voters.
Opponents, including Gov. Bill Ritter, called the measure deceptive, saying it would, among other things, jeopardize outreach programs for minority children.
They credited an intense door-to-door campaign among voters for the ban’s rejection. Other opponents included Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and three NCAA Division I men’s basketball coaches.
“We definitely had moments when we though it was a David-and-Goliath fight, when we thought no one was listening. But they were,” said Melissa Hart, a University of Colorado law professor who led the fight against Amendment 46.
Ward Connerly, the black businessman and former University of California regent who orchestrated the effort to ban affirmative action in Nebraska and Colorado, blamed the size of the state’s ballot, the nation’s longest with 13 other measures, as well as the groundswell of support for Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president-elect. Colorado, a traditional red state, went for Obama in Tuesday’s election.
Faced with so many complicated ballot issues ” from a proposal to define when life begins to another that would raise energy taxes ” Coloradans were in no mood to approve much of anything, Connerly said.
“More than anything else, more than anything, it was the tendency to just vote ‘no,'” he said.
Colorado voters rejected most other measures, and one that could lead to shorter ballots was failing. One of the few to pass allows gambling towns to extend their hours and raising gaming stakes.
Connerly said he would still try to pass affirmative action bans in other states that allow citizen initiatives, and he left open the possibility of trying again in Colorado.
He had originally envisioned a “Super Tuesday for Equal Rights” this year featuring proposed bans in five states but could only get ballot measures in Colorado and Nebraska. In the future, he said, he’ll try to back campaigns in just two states at a time.
Colorado’s vote count continued Friday. The main holdup was in liberal-leaning Boulder County, where about 60 percent of the vote so far was against the affirmative action ban. Statewide the margin was much closer, with “No” votes leading “Yes” by 51 percent to 49 percent among the 2 million counted.
Jessica Corry, executive director of the pro-46 campaign, said the ban would have passed any other year. In the near term, she said, amendment backers are considering legal action to challenge what they consider to be violations of existing anti-discrimination laws at state universities. She said they could also file federal complaints or talk with university officials.
“It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and we’re in it for the long haul,” Corry said. “We will not allow a million Colorado voters to have their voices silenced.”
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