Aug 2, 2023 - Politics

Potential Colorado ballot questions put crime at top of 2024 election

Illustration of a checkmark made out of crime scene tape.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Two emerging ballot measures in Colorado are poised to cement crime as a major issue in the 2024 election and put the reigning Democratic Party on edge.

Driving the news: One question would seek voter approval to make it harder for criminals convicted of second-degree felonies to win parole, while the other would give judges the authority to deny bail for first-degree murder charges.

Why it matters: Forcing Democratic candidates to take a stand on the two measures could become a political wedge issue and boost conservatives in a state where they are struggling to regain relevance.

The big picture: Colorado's rising crime rates made policing a prominent issue in the Denver mayor's race and the 2022 election, and it forced Gov. Jared Polis and Democrats to make bold pledges that may not come to fruition.

What they're saying: "It's already an issue, but having two ballot measures dealing with the crime issue will definitely put a focus on it," says Michael Fields, the president of the conservative Advance Colorado Institute.

Zoom in: The advocacy organization is behind a "truth in sentencing" ballot question that goes before a review panel Wednesday.

  • It would require people convicted of a class 2 felony — such as murder, kidnapping, sexual assault and aggravated robbery — to complete at least 85% of their sentence.
  • Under current law, those convicted of class 2 felonies are serving 43% of their prison terms, after earned time and good behavior discounts are deducted, Fields told Axios Denver.

The other side: Democratic attorneys representing unspecified interests have challenged a similar measure to prevent it from making the ballot.

  • The issue of criminal punishments, in particular stiffer sentences, split Democratic lawmakers in the most recent legislative session.

Yes, but: The governor is backing efforts to amend the state constitution and allow judges to deny bail to those accused of first-degree murder, CPR reports.

Of note: Republicans support the change to the state constitution and want the governor to call lawmakers into a special session to deal with it immediately. Polis deferred to the next session because the measure couldn't go to voters until 2024.

  • "It's a potential public safety issue," Sen. Paul Lundeen, the Republican minority leader, told CPR.

What's next: Both measures need to clear a handful of procedural hurdles to make the ballot. And the parole questions would need sufficient voter signatures to qualify.


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