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Denver soundly rejects car-impound measure

The initiative, criticized as an effort to target illegal immigrants, would have required police to seize the vehicle of any unlicensed driver instead of leaving the decision to officers.

November 05, 2009|DeeDee Correll

DENVER — While voters elsewhere in the country were pondering questions of governorships and gay marriage, Denver residents were asked this week to consider a decidedly more obscure issue:

Should police be allowed to decide for themselves when to seize cars from unlicensed drivers?

Voters answered with a resounding yes, siding with law enforcement on what had become a controversial issue that many saw as a thinly disguised effort to target undocumented immigrants.

Initiative 300 sought to require police to impound cars when they found them driven by unlicensed motorists -- stripping authorities of the discretion to make that decision for themselves.

If approved, the law would have given Denver an approach unusual among police departments.

The measure -- rejected Tuesday by 70% of voters -- spurred strong opposition from city leaders as well as nonprofit and faith groups, who objected to a provision that would have required police to impound the cars not only of unlicensed drivers, but also of anyone suspected of being an "illegal alien." It also required that motorists post a $2,500 bond to retrieve their cars.

Opponents had argued that the requirement would have drained city resources, crowded impound lots and punished drivers who simply forgot their licenses.

"Voters recognized that it was a bad policy," said Jessie Ulibarri, spokesman for Coloradans for Safe Communities, a coalition of groups that opposed the measure.

Throughout the campaign, the initiative's author, Dan Hayes, argued that unlicensed drivers usually also were uninsured, making them a menace, and maintained that illegal immigrants were a significant part of the problem.

Despite the loss, Hayes said he intended to pursue a similar measure statewide. "I don't know if I'll get the support, but I'll try anyway. I don't give up."

"I think he'll have a big uphill battle," Ulibarri said. "Voters across the state understand this is a terrible idea."

The measure garnered 24,016 votes of support, or 30.5%, and 54,717 no votes, or 69.5%.

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Correll writes for The Times.

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