With 619,000 votes cast, Republicans keep a slight lead in Colorado ballot returns. But…

Ballots being collected outside the Denver Election Commission. (Photo by Phil Cherner for The Colorado Independent)

Eight days before Election Day, Colorado Republicans have returned 4,411 more early ballots than Democrats, holding a nearly unbroken, if slight, lead in turnout since ballots went out in the mail Oct. 15.

By the morning of Oct. 29, 618,942 of nearly 3.3 million active voters in Colorado had turned in ballots. Election Day is Nov. 6.

A few days earlier, on Oct. 24, Democrats had overtaken Republicans by 390 votes after the GOP out-voted them by 2,245 votes on Oct. 23, the first day the secretary of state released return numbers. Republicans swung back on Oct. 25 to take the lead by 2,222. On Oct. 26 they consolidated a few thousand more votes to hold the advantage going into the weekend. On Monday, the GOP had nearly doubled its gains on the Democrats.

Still, ballot-return watchers in Colorado point out more Democrats are voting than they did at this point in the 2014 midterms.

“Looking at the results we find Democratic and Republican ballot returns still relatively close, with Republican turnout leading by nearly 5,000 votes statewide,” writes Ryan Winger, a pollster at the blog of Colorado-based GOP-leaning Magellan Strategies. “Republicans, however, are well off the pace from the comparable point during the last midterm cycle in 2014, while Democrats and Unaffiliated voters are now ahead of their pace. This suggests that there is an enthusiasm gap right now in favor of the Democrats, and while all campaigns will be spending this next week turning out their voters, that job will be especially critical for Republicans as they look to hold the turnout advantage that has been so crucial to their remaining competitive in statewide elections.”

Meanwhile, Colorado’s more than 1.2 million unaffiliated voters, the state’s largest voter pool, have cast 176,143 ballots as of Oct. 29. A big question is which way they will swing to affect the partisan statewide and legislative races on this year’s ballot.

We did get an idea of how they might vote if the results of this year’s primaries are any indication. This was the first year unaffiliated voters could participate in a party primary, and they could only pick one. The number of unaffiliated voters was about 270,000. Of that number, 63 percent chose a Democratic ballot and 37 percent picked a Republican one, according to data from the secretary of state’s office. Already, 132,066 unaffiliated voters have cast ballots in this election.

On the third-party front, 4,623 Libertarians have cast ballots and 1,175 Green Party members have voted. The Unity Party, a new third party, snared 92 votes so far.

Voters between the ages of 41 and 60 are casting more early votes in Colorado than any other age group, data shows. Women are ahead of men in early voting by about 10,000 ballots.

More voters in swingy Jefferson County are turning in early ballots than anywhere else, to the tune of 81,975. Next up is Arapahoe County, casting 55,767 votes. Voters in El Paso County, home to a large bloc of Republicans, turned in 74,041 ballots so far. In Democrat-rich Denver County, voters have cast only 59,886 ballots. Democratic-leaning Boulder County turned in 48,247 so far. (Both those counties tend to turn ballots in later.) Voters in the battleground county of Larimar have cast 42,955 votes. Republican lead there so far by a few hundred votes.

Here’s the breakdown as os of Oct. 29 of Colorado’s early ballot returns in the 2018 General Election, per the secretary of state: