Colorado’s swing county vows it’s election-ready

A view of the Rocky Mountains from the fast-growing south Denver suburb Centennial. (notanyron, Flickr)
A view of the Rocky Mountains from the fast-growing south Denver suburb Centennial. (notanyron, Flickr)
Tie together one of Colorado’s most populated counties with registration numbers that split almost evenly among Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters and you can bet Arapahoe County is on everyone’s political map this year. In fact, there isn’t a politico in Colorado that doesn’t consider Arapahoe one of the state’s most clear-cut swing counties in an important swing state.

Located in the southeast region of Denver’s Metro Area, Arapahoe County is home to many affluent neighborhoods and golf courses that have come to illustrate suburbia. For many years, Republicans controlled Arapahoe County, making up nearly 40 percent of the electorate with unaffiliated voters far surpassing Democrats. But changes in the state’s political winds and voter demographics have taken their toll on the Republican majority in Arapahoe since 2004 and indeed the number of active Democrats in Arapahoe surpassed the number of active Republicans in 2008.

“The upscale neighborhoods and the surburbanite folks with a good education who used to be the backbone of the Republican Party are now moving toward the Democrats and so are their children,” said Colorado College political science professor Bob Loevy. “You are seeing that in Arapahoe and Jefferson counties. Those voters used to be solid conservative strongholds but they have been trending Democrat during the last eight years.”

More than 220,000 people have registered to vote in Colorado this year, including 50,000 in Arapahoe County, according to Secretary of State data. Of the 50,000 new voters in Arapahoe County, 20,000 are Democrats compared with 10,000 new Republicans.

In 2004, there were 136,870 Republicans in Arapahoe County, or 37 percent of the electorate. At the same time, Democrats accounted for 29 percent, or 108,987 voters with unaffiliated voters numbering 125,755 making up the remaining 34 percent. Fast forward to 2008 and the party breakdown has shifted substantially. Republicans have lost ground during the last four years and now only account for 33 percent of the Arapahoe County electorate, or 114,007 voters. Democrats on the other hand have made gains and now boast more registered voters than the Republicans with 119,392, or 34 percent. The remaining 109,908 voters, or 32 percent, are unaffiliated.

The shift in Arapahoe County away from the Republican Party has been seen statewide and is widely believed to be due to a number of political conditions.

According to Loevy there are many factors for the shift including a weak party brand on the national level and a Colorado electorate that has moved away from that social conservatism that has been popular in recent years to favor politics that concentrate more on fiscal conservatism.

“The Iraq war and the economic downturn have pushed the social conservative agenda off the map in this election,” Loevy said. “It was popular in the out-burbs, the brand new subdivisions that have grown up in Colorado, that is where the socially conservative agenda played well. But, as President George Bush becomes more unpopular and the party brand is weakened by the economy, you are seeing many of the upscale, socially conservative folks shifting to the Democrats, or at least their children are.”

Is Arapahoe ready for Election Day?

With so much attention being paid to Colorado as a swing state this year in the presidential election, Arapahoe County’s large population and relatively close registration numbers have garnered concern among some elected officials in Colorado, including Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Golden. Perlmutter, who represents part of the county, sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Coffman and Arapahoe County Clerk Nancy Doty last week asking that Coffman appoint an independent election monitor to oversee polls in Araphoe County next week.

In his letter to Coffman, Perlmutter said he was unsure if Arapahoe County is ready for the rush of voters expected to come out to the polls on Election Day and said the potential for long lines and problems with the electronic voting machines could suppress some voters.

“Not only would such a delay potentially turn away many would-be voters, any widespread problems with the machines would paralyze the polls in Arapahoe County and disenfranchise thousands of citizens,” Perlmutter wrote in his letter.

Doty, who told The Colorado Independent earlier this month that she didn’t foresee many Election Day problems, including extraordinarily long lines, because of such a large percentage of county voters who are voting by mail this year, responded to Perlmutter’s concerns with a written statement to media. About 65 percent of Arapahoe County’s 343,358 voters have requested mail-in ballots.

“Despite the concerns raised by Candidate Ed Perlmutter’s campaign office, the Arapahoe County Clerk and Recorder’s Office is confident that the election in Arapahoe County will be a fair and honest election,” Doty wrote. “We are working diligently to prepare for the upcoming general election and we are already busy processing the thousands of mail ballots that have been returned, as well as accommodating the many people who are participating in early voting.”

Coffman, whose office has been deflecting concerns by many independent election watchdog groups in recent weeks, turned down Perlmutter’s request for an election observer in Arapahoe County late last week. In his written statement, Coffman said he believed Doty was adequately prepared to handle the expected turnout on Election Day.

“The concerns of Arapahoe County’s ability to effectively manage voter wait times have been discussed,” Coffman said.”Ms. Doty is preparing a response for me. If I find the response insufficient, I will take immediate action and order the deployment of additional resources.”

In her interview with The Colorado Independent, Doty said she felt good about the efforts her office has made to ensure all county residents who want to vote this year can do so.

“We had a 93 percent turnout in 2004 and I expect that to go up this year to be around 95 percent,” Doty said, adding she has done much public outreach to inform voters of their many options. “I have sent out two mailings this year because I knew that we were going to be a long ballot. Voters have also been getting corespondence from the campaigns. In addition, we have 200 polling locations and have added an extra 100 voting machines this year. I know we are ready.”