Residents of 11 Colorado counties will vote Tuesday on whether to secede and form the nation's 51st state.
Proponents of the ballot measure say it is needed to give them a political voice. They say the state government, which is under control of Democrats, is ignoring the concerns of rural voters when passing new gun controls and energy mandates.
The ballot measure would only be a first step to secession. If passed, it would only allow counties to “pursue those [other] counties [in] becoming the 51st state.” The state legislature and Congress would also have to approve.
Seth Masket, a political science professor at the University of Denver, said political observers in the state mostly see the secession movement as a novelty without much chance of success.
“My impression is that this secession movement has drawn more attention from the national press than from local media,” he said.
The debate over secession is framed in rural vs. urban terms.
Weld County, located on the northern border of Colorado, is by far the most populated county, with more than 250,000 residents, to sign onto the measure.
Most of the other 10 other counties that will vote on the measure hold populations of less than 10,000 residents. Rural voters in Colorado gave Mitt Romney nearly 60 percent of their vote during the 2012 election.
Masket said the Democratic Party in the state has largely ignored the movement, while Republicans have struggled to respond to it.
“[Republicans] need to express sympathy with those who are organizing the movement, as those folks are very active politically, but they don't want to be branded as extremists themselves, so they are largely declining to endorse the effort,” Masket said.
Secession isn’t the only controversial measure on the ballot in Colorado.
Voters statewide will also cast their ballots on a marijuana tax, after Colorado became one of two states to legalize the drug for recreational use.
“Combine that with the state's marijuana legalization initiative, and voters and activists in the more rural and conservative parts of the state feel like the state government has grown completely alien to them, and they no longer want to be a part of it,” Masket said.
Another ballot measure in the state would raise taxes to fund public education. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates have spent more than $1 million in Colorado backing the tax hike.
From Washington to Maine, there are 31 statewide ballot initiatives up for a vote Tuesday. New York is considering legalizing gambling, while New Jersey is seeking to tie its minimum wage to a cost of living adjustment.
The proposal with maybe the largest implications centers in Washington state, where voters will decide whether genetically modified food should require extra labeling.
If the measure is passed, Washington would be the first state to require across-the-board GMO labeling.
Industry and biotechnology groups maintain that GMO crop products are perfectly safe, and say the mandatory labels are not necessary.