Unaffiliated voters in Colorado: Only mail back one ballot or your vote won’t count

What you need to know about the new law letting independent voters participate in the primaries

Unaffiliated voters in Colorado: Only mail back one ballot or your vote won’t count

By now, you might have already gotten your ballots for the June 26 primary elections in Colorado.

If you’re one of Colorado’s largest population of voters— those who choose not to belong to a political party— you got two ballots in the mail.

Only mail back one of them, or your vote won’t count.

Why am I getting a ballot for a party primary if I’m not a party member?

Because voters passed a ballot measure in 2016 opening up the process to the state’s 1.2 million unaffiliated voters. (As of June 1, there were 1,015,813 registered active Democrats and 1,000,116 Republicans.)

Supporters of the new law said they hoped it would provide a moderating effect on the outcome of primary elections. Closed primaries, some said, create a dynamic where candidates run toward the extreme poles of their party, producing less moderate candidates in general elections.

Some opponents of the law said they felt only registered members of a political party should get the opportunity to vote in the party primaries.

OK, so I got my two ballots, what do I do?

You’ll see they have different names on them. One of them is a Democratic primary ballot and one is a Republican primary ballot. The ballot will tell you the party on the top of the page in the middle, under the Election Day date of June 26.

On both ballots, there are four people running for governor. Read about them at our page dedicated to the governor’s race here.

You will see the Democrats have a primary race for attorney general, but the Republicans only have one name. That’s because there is only one Republican in that election. The state treasurer race has three Republicans running in it and two Democrats.

Depending on where you live, you might see a crowded race to become a party’s nominee in a race for Congress.

On the back of your ballot are local primary elections, like for state representative, county commissioner, county treasurer, assessor, sheriff, surveyor or coroner.

When should I mail my ballot back in?

You should mail in your ballot by June 18 if you want it processed before the June 26 Election Day. You have until 7 p.m. on June 26 to slip it into a dropbox location or your local Voter Service Polling Center.

“To be counted, a ballot needs to arrive by 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 26,” says Secretary of State spokeswoman Lynn Bartels. But the Secretary of State’s office suggests mailing it in before June 18 to make sure it arrives on time or using a 24-hour drop box offered by your clerk.

If you live in Denver County, you can even track your ballot online after you vote here to check on its status up until Election Day.

How much postage will it cost?

That depends on the county in which you live.

In Denver County, for instance, it will cost you a 70-cent stamp to mail back your ballot. In Eagle County, it’s 50 cents, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

A good bet would be to put two stamps on your ballot just in case.

If you drop your ballot in one of the 24-hour drop boxes in your county there is no cost.

What if I want to vote in person somewhere?

You can do that.

Each county is required to have a voting service and polling center. The number of them is based on the population of the county. There will always be one at the county clerk’s office.

How this process might look depends on the county.

You’ll walk in, they’ll check your registration status, and they’ll ask which party’s ballot you want. You’ll fill it out, or in some counties vote on a tablet, and cast your ballot right there on the spot.

B-b-b-but what if I’m unaffiliated and I only got one ballot in the mail?

That means you already chose which party primary you wanted to vote in and asked the Secretary of State’s office for just that ballot.

As of this week, 43,282 unaffiliated voters have done just that. And within the past year, more of them have asked for Democratic ballots than Republican ballots.

To give you an idea, of those 43,000 unaffiliated voters who requested ballots, 56.3 percent asked for a Democratic one and 37.7 percent asked for a Republican one, according to the latest figures from the Secretary of State’s office.

Will people be able to know which ballot I chose?

Yes.

The party preference you choose will become a public record if someone asks for it, but who you voted for will not.

There was a bit of a debate over whether party preference should become public record after voters passed the 2016 law.

Colorado’s Republican secretary of state, Wayne Williams, pushed for the disclosure as he developed rules to implement the new law. “No one has a right or ability to know how you voted, but they have a right to know in what election you voted,” Williams told The Colorado Independent back then. “We’re not like a dictatorship where we say, ‘Trust us comrade, a lot of people voted and they didn’t vote for you, but I’m not going to tell you who those people are who voted.’”

Morgan Carroll, who leads the state Democratic Party, and Jeff Hays, who leads the state Republican party, both said they also wanted the ability to access the names of unaffiliated voters who voted in their primaries.

Not everyone, though, wants that information made public. “I think people are unaffiliated because they don’t want that tag, don’t want that label,” said Amber McReynolds, an unaffiliated voter who is Denver’s director of elections. She is pushed back against the move and noted that the statewide pitch to voters who passed the new law at the ballot box, called Prop. 108, didn’t talk much about whether unaffiliated voters will have to publicly declare what party primary they choose. “I think a lot of voters who aren’t close to this process don’t realize that implication,” McReynolds said.

How many unaffiliated voters might vote in this year’s primaries?

We don’t know!

But a poll conducted for the Secretary of State’s Office by the Republican-leaning Colorado-based Magellan Strategies firm, gave us an early snapshot, albeit with a caveat.

According to the survey of about 500 unaffiliated voters who have participated in recent general elections and are likely to vote in the 2018 general election, 39 percent said they intend to vote in the primaries this year. Of those, 27 percent said they plan to vote in the Democratic primary, and 12 percent plan to vote in the GOP primary. Among the unaffiliated voters asked, 28 percent said they were undecided about whether they will cast a ballot in the primaries and 33 percent said they do not plan to get involved; 45 percent said they knew they would have the option, meaning more than half surveyed did not.

As for which way they lean, 52 percent described themselves as moderate, 27 percent as liberal, and 16 percent as conservative. Another 5 percent declined to say. The poll was conducted between Dec. 11 and Dec. 13, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.38 percent.

David Flaherty, CEO of Magellan Strategies, whose public affairs and polling firm has researched the state’s unaffiliated voters for years, cautions that those numbers might be skewed higher because the respondents had a higher propensity of voting in previous elections than the pool of 1.2 million independent voters at large.

Flaherty personally predicts that between 15 and 20 percent might vote in the Democratic primary, and between 9 and 11 percent will take a GOP ballot. That, of course, can change and plenty of it depends on how much candidates and their campaigns target independent voters to draw them in.

For a state that’s almost evenly balanced among Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters, those independents could be a wildcard in this year’s election. “We’ve always known the unaffiliated voter will tend to lean more Democrat [more than] Republican in choosing a candidate,” Flaherty says.

Hundreds of thousands of unaffiliated voters, he says, came onto the rolls in 2008 and 2012 to vote for Barack Obama for president, and they are overwhelmingly female and millennials.

This year’s June primaries will bring more clarity to the voting patterns of these elusive non-party people.

Some people have said unaffiliated voters could vote in the primaries before. True?

We’ve heard them say that, too. The answer is no.

What they mean when they say that is voters who were unaffiliated could temporarily register as Democrats or Republicans, vote in the primary, and then switch back to unaffiliated. Doing so, however, made you a registered member of a party— if just for a day.

Under the new laws, unaffiliated voters can participate in the primary while remaining unaffiliated throughout the whole process.

 

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About the Author

Corey Hutchins

is a journalist in Colorado, and Columbia Journalism Review's Rocky Mountain correspondent for the United States Project. Follow him on Twitter @CoreyHutchins and email him at CoreyHutchins [at] gmail [dot] com.

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