Residents from 11 mostly-rural counties in northeastern Colorado voted on a ballot question on Tuesday in what was called the 51st State Question: whether to forge ahead with a plan to secede from Colorado and create a new state. But six of the counties, including the most populous Weld County, voted against the measure, ending for now what had been an uphill constitutional fight that was likely going nowhere even if it passed.
Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway told supporters Tuesday that he would not pursue secession further, the Denver Post reports. “But we will continue to look at the problems of the urban and rural divide in this state,” he said.
Even if the counties agreed to move forward, secession would have to be approved by the state legislature and by Congress. West Virginia was the last state to breakaway, from Virginia — and that was 150 years ago.
The secession movement in Colorado grew out of a bruising legislative session, in which Democrats pushed through initiatives that were unpopular in the more rural parts of the state. In August, when eight counties first decided to move forward with a ballot initiative to to secede and create a new state called Conway told TIME, “The state I grew up in, the state that I’ve come to love, is slowly and surely slipping away to something I don’t recognize. I think that is what’s fueling this movement.”
There were several pieces of new legislation that were unpopular in northeaster Colorado, including new gun laws, but perhaps the most controversial measure was an energy bill that requires doubling the amount of energy from renewable sources by 2020. Republicans argued that the new law would raise energy prices in rural areas.
Six counties did vote to move forward with the secession initiative, but with crucial Weld County voting no, the movement is likely stalled.
For the counties who still hope to leave Colorado, an easier (though almost as unlikely) path would be to propose to leave the state and join another. In theory, the counties of northern Colorado could vote to secede and join neighboring Wyoming or Nebraska. Such a measure would need to be approved by the legislatures of both the losing and gaining states, then be signed by both governors, an implausible event, but one that at least wouldn’t need Washington’s consent.