This November will mark the first time Colorado voters will be able to cast their ballots for president entirely by mail.
That’s thanks to a package of state election laws Democrats passed here in 2013. Those laws have made voting in Colorado easier, but have also come with unintended consequences. For instance, county election officials no longer have to notify voters if their precinct lines change, which led to some confusion prior to this year’s March 1 caucuses.
But another big change is the way in which the Colorado government now classifies someone as an “inactive voter.” Voters are declared inactive, which means they will not be mailed a ballot, if a piece of mail sent out by the government bounces back. That could be because the voter no longer lives there, and ballots are not forwardable.
Both active and inactive voters are eligible to vote, but the government will not mail inactive voters ballots. Active voters— those with a current, functioning address— will get a ballot mailed to their house to easily fill out and return before Election Day. Inactive voters will not.
So, how many inactive voters are there in Colorado? According to the Secretary of State’s office, there are around 611,000 of them. For comparison, there are a little more than three million registered active voters in Colorado.
So what does this mean?
This is from a blog post by David Flaherty, CEO of Magellan Strategies, a Republican-leaning Colorado public affairs firm:
What this means is that the Inactive voter flag is something quite different than it used to be. Before, Inactive voters might still be just as likely to vote as their Active counterparts. They had to be included in most voter contact efforts, because the only thing that set them apart from Active voters was that they had failed to vote in the last election. Now, an Inactive voter is far less likely to vote than an Active voter, because only Active voters will be receiving a ballot in the mail.
Flaherty also dug into the numbers from 2014 to compare them to 2016.
He found that in 2014 there were 651,697 inactive voters registered in Colorado, and of them, only 45,293 voted in the general election that year— a turnout rate of 7 percent of that voting bloc. He then drilled down into the data to get a picture of what those inactive voters look like in Colorado.
What he found: Inactive Colorado voters are disproportionately young— nearly two thirds are below the age of 45— and nearly half are unaffiliated, meaning they are not a member of a political party. The more than a million unaffiliated voters in Colorado make up the state’s largest voting bloc.
Flaherty says he got the data from public information at the Secretary of State’s office, which anybody can obtain, and aggregated it.
Aggregate Colorado voter registration is trending Democratic, as we pointed out in a recent piece looking at the latest voter data. But we also reported that while there are more registered Democrats than Republicans for the first time in 20 years— counting both active and inactive voters— there are more registered active Republicans than Democrats in Colorado.
Flaherty’s conclusion in his post is that candidates and campaigns in Colorado should focus on active voters.
Here’s ours: Voters in Colorado should find out what their status is before ballots start hitting mailboxes in the next few months and make sure they’re considered active if they want to receive a ballot. The easiest way for a registered voter to do that is by going to GoVoteColorado, clicking on the option for “Find my registration,” and log in, according to the Secretary of States’s office.
A voter who finds out they have an inactive status can become an active voter by updating their information on the website. If voters want a ballot mailed to their residence, they have to make the change eight days before the election.
Voters can still change their status after that, they’ll just have to do it in person.
Photo credit: gajman, Creative Commons, Flickr