Trail Marker: In Colorado, hundreds of thousands already voted. And hundreds of unaffiliated votes won’t count.

Across Colorado, voters are voting. Ballots have been open on kitchen tables for more than a week— with less than a week to go— and already nearly half a million voters made up their minds, checked some boxes, and mailed them back in.

What do the numbers show? So far, more Republicans have voted, but unaffiliated voters who can participate in the primaries for the first time— and can pick only one party’s ballot— are breaking left, choosing to vote in the Democratic primary at a greater clip.

Here were the numbers from the Secretary of State’s office as of June 20: So far, 478,309 Coloradans have voted. “Of that total, 183,446 ballots were cast by Democrats, 185,810 by Republicans and 109,053 by unaffiliated voters,” the office says.

So that unaffiliated number— big or small? Well, the Secretary of State’s office went back and crunched the data looking to see how many unaffiliated voters switched to a party so they could vote in a primary within 30 days of the 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016 elections. The total, added up, was 39,831. So, already about 70,000 more voters have already cast ballots than all four years combined. That’s participation.

As we hope you know, this is the first year unaffiliated voters are able to participate in the party primaries while remaining unaffiliated and are getting two ballots in the mail. Unfortunately, hundreds of these voters are screwing up and mailing two ballots back in— meaning their vote won’t count. As of last week, 7 percent of unaffiliated ballots cast in El Paso County alone won’t be counted because voters didn’t follow directions, according to state officials.

On Wednesday, the Pueblo County clerk’s office told a reporter a whopping 18 percent of unaffiliated voters has mucked up their ballots in Pueblo County. “Didn’t read the instructions,” Pueblo County Clerk Gilbert Ortiz tweeted. But a day later he said, “We made a mistake in figuring that out. It’s more like eight percent,” adding that the office is still going through ballots to make sure. “When we combined reports there was a mathematical error,” he told The Colorado Independent.

According to the Secretary of State’s office, there is no way for a voter to remedy the mistake if they mail in two ballots.

What a damn shame. We made a video you can share with your unaffiliated friends to make sure their vote counts:

The last day to cast a ballot is June 26.


We are now in the final stretch, and the past week has been marked again by Democratic in-fighting over negative ads with Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper blowing the referee whistle.

During the final Democratic debate this Monday, a new battle erupted on the stage over campaign finance. Read our recap of that debate— and see where the Dems stand on drilling setbacks, declaring Colorado a “sanctuary state,” gun violence and more by clicking the link below (bonus: Find out what their spouses think is their most annoying trait).

5 takeaways from the final Democratic debate for Colorado governor

Speaking of these Democrats running for governor, if you want to know how we got here in this four-way Democratic primary between Jared Polis, Cary Kennedy, Mike Johnston and Donna Lynne, you have to read our columnist Mike Littwin’s in-depth piece that lays bare the inside story of this dramatic, watershed race.

Littwin: So much for the Dem civil war. In CO gov primary, it’s all nuance and Trump.

On the GOP side, two Republicans, State Treasurer Walker Stapleton and Victor Mitchell, spent the last week taking shots at each other— and, we might add, both relying on reporting from The Colorado Independent in their ads to do so. Both of them are also injecting more of their own money into the race in the final stretch, with Mitchell set to spend more than $5 million on this primary. (Don’t forget to read our in-depth profiles of Stapleton and Mitchell.)

Earlier this month, the largest gathering of conservatives outside of D.C., the Western Conservative Summit, took place in Denver, and former Parker Mayor Greg Lopez won the event’s straw poll for governor. Want to know more about him? Tina Griego profiled Lopez here as part of our in-depth candidate profiles.

In the final Republican debate of the primary, the four candidates remained largely civil, but some weird stuff came out of the end. (You’ll find out why that’s highlighted— and why it’s funny— when you click the link below for our big takeaways:

6 takeaways from the final Republican debate in the Colorado governor’s race

Inside a Mike Johnston family dinner

The current narrative in the governor’s race is that it’s a two-way battle between Polis and Kennedy in the Democratic primary, but former State Sen. Mike Johnston says that’s not reflected in what he’s seeing on the trail. Not long ago, I caught up with him at an event that showcased an under-covered aspect of his campaign. (Read our full profile of Johnston here.)

For the past year or so he’s been hosting family-style dinners at the homes of supporters who try to make sure as many attendees with differing political backgrounds show up as possible. It’s not your typical candidate-gives-a-speech-and-takes-questions forum, but a way for those there to talk about what most excites them and worries them about Colorado and share personal experiences while a candidate for governor listens and sometimes jumps in. It’s a practical realization of one of Johnson’s campaign themes— bridging political divides.

“I have a number of siblings that are all very, very strong Trump supporters, I have a— my dad who was a very, very strong Democrat who believed that George Bush was the one that flew the planes into the World Trade Trade Center,” Johnston told a gathering of about 20 in the living room home of supporter Alison Griffin in Erie on June 9 over plates of mac-and-cheese, chicken drumsticks and kale salad. “So we’ve got from the far left to the far right at any given dinner table at our house at any time and I thought that made for a great place to grow up.”

A theme that evening emerged among the group, which included an aerospace worker, educators, lawyers and nonprofit folks who were Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters: Colorado’s weather and economy are great and its rapid growth is exciting, but people are worried about how to manage and sustain that growth. Healthcare and housing costs are out of control. Traffic is bad. Student loan debt is crushing and education is under-funded.

On education, Johnston explained how he wants to repeal “the worst parts” of TABOR— Colorado’s 1992 revenue-limiting Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights amendment, which, among other things, requires the state to refund anything over a state budget cap. “If you remove that cap, that would allow you to put about $400 million back into K-12 education in the first year,” he said, saying he would put $100 million of that into teacher salaries.

Asked by a voter what he thinks is the marquee distinction that sets him apart from the other three Democrats on the ballot, Johnston said the biggest difference is who has the capacity to win a general election and who has the courage to take on big, hard problems—  “who can actually bring people together around a dinner table or legislative table to solve them.” He said he sponsored 120 pieces of legislation in seven years in the state Senate that became law and more than 100 of them had GOP co-sponsors, including immigration reform and expanding renewable energy.

Kevin Holst, a longtime Republican who came with his wife, encouraged those there to vote for Johnston. In an interview, he said, “He reminds me of Bill Owens in his ability to … go across the party aisles.”

Eveline and Peter Grady, both unaffiliated voters who say they’ve cast ballots for Democrats and Republicans in the past, hadn’t heard about Johnston before and learned of the dinner through the host, Griffin, whose children attend the same school as their kids. The Gradys said the evening influenced their vote.

“I like that he seems like a real person,” said Kelly Little, who runs a Christian nonprofit global orphan initiative called Light Up Hope in Broomfield and attended the dinner.

Griffin, who works in federal higher education policy and is a former advisor to Republican U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, said as a single mom it’s hard to find time to knock on doors or phone bank so hosting a family dinner was the best way she could help spread the word about Johnston. In a hyper-polarized political climate, she said, seeing people who might not always agree sitting around and having a civil conversation doesn’t happen enough these days.

Following the event, in an interview, Johnston noted the large number of still-undecided voters showing up in polls as the race closes out. “I think that they’re still looking for a different kind of candidate who is willing to take on hard progressive issues but is actually willing to bridge divides to get those things done. I think that’s where they think Colorado is and they’re looking for that candidate— and I think I’m going to be that candidate.”

Cash dropped so far in this governor race has blown away 2010 and 2014 spending records – combined

This is really remarkable.

“With one week to go until the primary, spending in Colorado’s 2018 governor’s race has shattered records – even for spending in general elections in the state,” data journalist Sandra Fish reported for us this week. “Monday’s final filings before the June 26 primary made clear that this election cycle is dominated by deep pockets, both of the candidates themselves and of their supporters.”

In Colorado’s primary elections, some TV ad money is disclosed and some is in the dark

Fish also dug into the latest numbers in her follow-the-money reporting for us on this race and found some shocking figures. At least $16.6 million has been spent on TV ads since January. Nearly $11.4 million was on the governor’s race alone. More than $5.6 million of it was spent by Democrat Jared Polis with his own money and $1.2 million by Republican Victor Mitchell out of his own pocketbook. Read what else she found here, with charts and graphs. Also, Fish and I published a piece this week about a big ruling from a federal judge that could drastically reshape the unique system Colorado uses to enforce (or not enforce) campaign finance laws.

Littwin’s latest rankings in the governor’s race

Columnist Mike Littwin is out with his penultimate rankings for the governor’s race before the June 26 election. Come for the informed analysis from his esteemed pundit panel, and stay for the arrows showing who’s up, who’s down and who’s sideways. Rankings here.

Read our in-depth candidate profiles 

It’s been a long campaign season— and there are a lot of candidates in the governor’s race to choose from. Everywhere I go I hear people say they’re having a tough time deciding. To help, we have published the most in-depth profiles of these candidates to appear yet. We hope you’ll read and share them widely, and we hope they help you feel like you know these folks and whether or not they might make a good governor. Find them each below:

Republican Walker Stapleton: A political unknown 8 years ago who is the establishment GOP’s hope to break a blue wave.

Democrat Jared Polis, a Boulder congressman who has big plans and big money to push them.

Republican Victor Mitchell who built six companies and is self-funding his race with $5 million.

Democrat Mike Johnston, A charismatic campaigner trying to build bridges in bridge-burning times.

Republican Doug Robinson: In the shadow of a front-runner, a tall man makes his move.

Democrat Donna Lynne, a healthcare executive. A lieutenant governor. A first-time candidate fighting to make her mark.

Republican Greg Lopez, a “taste test” candidate counting on the personal touch to prove his skeptics wrong.

Democrat Cary Kennedy, the public education candidate who has the base, but will it be enough?