Top Colorado primary race results may be hazy for weeks

** Updated below with new numbers

The hot primary contests for U.S. Senate pitting Michael Bennet against Andrew Romanoff on the Democratic side and Ken Buck against Jane Norton on the Republican side may not be decided until well after the victory parties end. Same goes for the tight GOP race for governor and for the “sleeper race for treasurer,” as Colorado Secretary of State spokesperson Rich Coolidge notes. He says the official count is due 13 days after today’s primary voting deadline. All of these races are now so close according to polling that votes cast late and provisional and military ballots counted in the coming days could factor significantly into the results.

“Our estimate is that we’ve got 11,000 Coloradans overseas and 1000 of those are military,” Coolidge told the Colorado Independent. More than that, according to Coolidge, there were 50,000 provisional ballots cast in the 2008 election– that is, ballots cast by voters where there is some question as to eligibility, say a lack of ID or a floating address. In an election where roughly 350,000 people total will cast ballots for one or the other party’s candidates, the number of ballots that will go untallied tonight might swing any one of these contests.

Bennet and Romanoff

Coolidge has assembled the numbers reported from districts at about noon today (pdf):

Democrats have so far returned 298,062 ballots, or roughly 36 percent of 817,458 active voters. Republicans have so far returned 340,788 ballots, or roughly 40 percent of 855,667 active voters.

** Here are the numbers reported at 3:00: Democrats have returned 310,671 ballots, or roughly 38 percent of 817,458 active voters. Republicans have so far returned 340,788 ballots, or just shy of 40 percent of 855,667 active voters.

This is Coolidge’s important caveat:

The question is “When” not “If” provisional ballots are counted. Primary night results are only an initial tabulation. The OFFICIAL count is due 13 days after the primary when the canvass board meets and reviews the votes. This 13 days allows time to verify provisional ballots and time for overseas military ballots to arrive (8-day extension for these ballots).

When will results be posted? Clerks are allowed to process ballots 15 days before the election. For the most part, counties will have most ballots cast up until Monday-ish processed and ready for tabulation after 7:00pm tonight. The rest of the results will be forthcoming. Obviously, your patience waiting for these results is most appreciated.

Coolidge also said this year appears to be witnessing very high turnout but he said historical comparisons don’t really work. This is the first near all mail-in primary and, compared to recent midterm election contests, there are more top-of-the-ticket contests to draw voters, not to mention that they’re all close.

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