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Say what?

ballotForgive me for inflicting this on you, but I couldn’t resist. My mail-in ballot arrived today and in reading over it, I was reminded repeatedly of yesterday’s post about all caps text in legal documents. My ballot is a wonderful (or horrible) example.

There are a number of measures on the ballot; those approved will become either new state statutes or amendments to the state constitution. (Don’t ask me why, in Colorado, the constitution is up for grabs in every election, why everyday tax and finance measures get stuck into the constitution, etc. It’s a crazy system and I have no idea why it exists. Something about direct democracy, I think.) For reasons I cannot comprehend, some of the measures are set in all caps and others are in the normal, easy-to-read cap and lowercase.

Anyway, there are several measures on the ballot regarding county mill levies that I’ve not seen before. The photo is of the last half (yes, only half) of one of the measures (note the measure to the left is set in normal caps and lowercase). I’ve tried three times to read and comprehend this and have failed. Completely. Totally. I can’t even keep my eyes on it long enough to get to the bottom, much less understand the legal gobbledygook.

And I’m expected to vote on this?


  1. We do constitutional amendments each cycle in Arkansas as well (the ol’ “ballot issues”). Sometimes they’re good ideas (often ruined in some way, though, like the ethics issue this time around, which lengthens term limits), but often they’re things that really shouldn’t be left to easily swayed voters. Which is why several of them have been repealed, tossed by courts, or changed. It really is too easy to amend some state constitutions …

    • Definitely too easy. Constitutions ought to be more like the US Constitution, broad, general, guiding principles upon which more specific laws are based. They sure shouldn’t include annual budget measures and similar routine state business matters.

      But it beats me what the above proposal even says.

      • Yup; the last time term limits were voted on, cumulative time was 14 years (six in one house, eight in the other). In the new proposal, it would be a cumulative 16 (sliced up pretty much however you want). That little bit wasn’t in the original ethics bill proposal, but was put in as a compromise to actually get it on the ballot,

  2. Our ballots are weird too. Whenever there is a proposition to decide they seem to like going the CAP mode too. Maybe they think we’ll think it’s more important if it’s in all caps. Obviously they do. As to understanding the language in laws, bills, propositions, measures – I think they rely on you voting based on the commercials of the issue, rather than actually trying to read and understand it. Right? What a world.

    • Did you read my previous post? Being conspicuous and seeming important is precisely why the all caps are used. As for explanations, there have been plenty for statewide measures, but the above is only a county measure and I’ve seen zero discussions, explanations, commercials, endorsements, etc. It might be a good thing, but why would anyone vote “Yes” on it if they had no idea what its intent is?

  3. Gosh, what a confusing mess. Makes my eyes cross, too. Apparently, CO hasn’t decided to jump on the “plain language govt” bandwagon. Then thinking back to high school English… wonder how many hours it would take to diagram these measures! Maybe they should hire a ballot editor… we know where they could find a good candidate 🙂

    • I seem to recall living somewhere where ballot issues were stated in plain English, but I can’t remember where it was. Obviously not here, although some of the issues on our ballot are much shorter and easier read and understand. The sad thing is this one involves funding for our schools, and I almost always support such measures, but I like to know what I’m voting for.

  4. We in Texas suffer the same gobbledygook and constitutional amendments in nearly every election. If ordinary people could understand the partial one you included, we’d all be… I can’t imagine what…

    From what (little) I read of your CO proposal, anything they choose to do will be legal. In plain English, I’d rephrase it to read, “Politicians have no legal restrictions on what they choose to do.”

    • “Exciting” for outsiders, maybe. Here, the campaigns are inescapable and nasty and tiresome and I’ll be so glad to have them over (although I greatly fear things won’t be going my way). I’d like to knock some heads together over our ballot. I’ll be researching everything online. Too bad many voters probably don’t bother.

  5. Missouri, too, is bi-annually infested with constitutional amendments. Must be some kinda virus. I have never seen a copy of the Missouri constitution and now I’m wondering if anyone else has? It sounds like constitutions are getting to be like the U.S. Tax Code. The only time we ever see that is every few years when some back-bencher hauls out a huge stack of paper and claims it’s the code. I don’t believe them, I don’t think it exists. Well, maybe except in the cloud, which is probably where the constitutions are headed.

    And now that we mention it, this constant changing is redolent of the way the U.S. Navy used to handle important documents like the UCMJ, U.S. Navy regulations and, especially, the U.S. Navy Bureau of Personnel Manual. Back in the day, we were forced to make regular changes to them with both pen-and-ink and cut-outs taped in. They would get really messy before new editions were published. Must be all in the cloud now. But at least they didn’t do the all-caps thing, not even in the UCMJ.

    • I think you’re right. There’s a giant folder in the cloud somewhere labeled “Colorado Constitution” (every state has one) and every time we pass some new amendment, it gets chucked in there. It’s not a foundational document; it’s just a pile of miscellaneous legislation.

  6. I’m reasonably smart, or so I’ve been told by people whose perceptions have been weakened by alcohol, and I have a pretty simple rule . . .

    If I can’t comprehend the full significance of a proposed change, I vote NO.

    The thinking goes like this . . . it’s either so bad (for me and mine) that they needed to purposefully obfuscate the proposal, or it is something good proposed by someone who could not articulate their aim, and hence can’t be trusted to implement it correctly and without negative consequences.

    Either way, NO is the prudent vote.

    p.s. some might suggest consulting editorials in local papers, online sites, etc.

    . . . again, if I can’t understand it by reading it, I would be foolish to trust someone else has interpreted the wording correctly. Besides, that would be the equivalent as handing the responsibility for my vote to a third party.

    • I carefully consider input from many sources, but if I still can’t understand it, I vote NO. However, I’ve learned to be cautious because there was a time in Oklahoma when state questions were sometimes worded in tricky ways so that a NO vote was actually in favor of the change.

      • Colorado specifically states that a “no” vote is for the measure not to pass, whatever it is.

        Then I go back to the rule I have . . . even if it’s something “good”, if it can’t be simply articulated, I won’t lose sleep over it.

        • And living in Colorado as I do now, I really appreciate that straightforwardness. The above is from an Adams County mill levy. As I recall, you live somewhere south of the Denver area so wouldn’t have to wade through this particular pile of legal jargon.

"Nothing is more dangerous than ignorance and intolerance armed with power." ~ Voltaire

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