It appears critics may be attempting to adopt a strategy to prevent the votes from being counted on the issue after the election, with a call by a former county commissioner to pressure Weld County commissioners to refuse to count the votes on ballot initiative 1A which asks residents if they want the commissioners to pursue the process of becoming a 51st state.
In a recent letter to the Greeley Tribune, Jacqueline Johnson, a former Weld County commissioner and attorney is arguing the votes should not be counted.
Johnson argues that it is improper for the commissioners to respond to concerns by their constituents by placing the issue on the ballot and wants them to “acknowledge that Ballot Question 1A is improperly before the voters, either by not counting the vote or by choosing not to pursue, in concert with other counties or otherwise, becoming the 51st state.”
During the entire time Weld County commissioners were listening to their constituents at town hall meetings, no one raised a legal objection that they had no authority to do so. Likewise, when the commissioners announced they were placing the question on the ballot and did so during a regular meeting that was open to the public, no one suggested the commissioners did not have the legal authority to place the issue on the ballot.
Instead, the reasons given for opposing it centered around the issue of whether secession was the best way to address the issue of disenfranchisement by the state’s urban areas which have a disproportionate amount of power relative to their geographic size over the rest of the state.
Since the approval of the ballot measure, the 51st state movement has gained momentum with residents in other states seeking to follow the example of Weld and the other county’s voting on the issue this November. Resident’s in California are renewing their call to secede and form the state of Jefferson along with residents of southern Oregon. Citizens in Maryland and Illinois have likewise begun to renew calls for secession following Weld’s leadership on the issue.
While there are 11 counties voting on the measure next week, Weld county has garnered the most attention nationally, primarily because it is undoubtedly the most powerful county of the group, being one of the largest and having no long term debt.
During a recent meeting before the Weld County Council, Bob Ruyle, an attorney with the Greeley Water Board argued that the commissioners did not have the authority to place the issue on the ballot. Ruyle argued that under the Colorado constitution only the people of the state have the right to secede from the state.
He goes on to claim that because of this restriction no elected official has the right to represent their constituents on this issue and that any secession movement must be totally citizen led. According to attorneys opposed to the measure elected officials cannot speak out in support of the issue because to do so goes beyond their scope of authority.
However, the commissioners are arguing they are doing just that, noting that it was residents of Weld County that have brought the issue to them.
At the same meeting, county attorney, Bruce Barker argued that if the commissioners were to actually issue any type of order or regulation announcing the formation of a 51st state then Ruyle would be right. However, he notes that all they are doing is asking if county residents want them to pursue the issue and that the pursuit could simply take the form of lobbying the legislature to allow the state to vote on the issue, which is the proper constitutional process for secession. The commissioners could also pass a resolution in support of the issue. He also noted that the county has passed a series of resolutions both for and against issues over the years and no one has ever complained that they did not the authority to do so before now.
Weld County Clerk and Recorder, Steve Moreno said contrary to what Johnson has suggested the commissioners do not have the authority to stop him from counting the votes next Tuesday.
“At this point, it would take a court order to stop me from counting the votes,” Moreno said. “Even the commissioners do not have that authority. Those opposed to the ballot initiative waited too long to raise their objections.”