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Let Colorado Vote


Low turnout highlights need to include independent voters in taxpayer-financed elections

DENVER — The Colorado Secretary of State reported today that fewer than 150,000 ballots have been returned for the June 28 primary election. 

The extremely low turnout – just 5 percent of active voters – is the result of an antiquated system that separates the presidential selection process and excludes the largest voting group in the state: the nearly 4 in 10 Coloradans who consider themselves independent voters.

“While Colorado’s general elections draw high interest and turnout, primary elections have been losing significance, and are weak links in Colorado’s democracy,” said Kent Thiry, co-chair of the Let Colorado Vote campaign. “We can and should do a better job of encouraging participation in the primary among all voters, including the growing number of Coloradans who value independence and choose not to join a political party.”

Encouraging participation in taxpayer-financed primary elections is the goal of Let Colorado Vote, a nonpartisan coalition that is pursuing two ballot initiatives this fall:

  • Initiative 98 would open primary elections to the state’s more than 1 million unaffiliated voters;
  • Initiative 140 would restore the presidential primary and open it to unaffiliated voters.

Colorado leads the nation in the growth of independent voters, who represent 37% of all voters in the state. But independent voters, who pay for elections, cannot participate in a primary without affiliating with a party.

Colorado is among a minority of states that closes its primaries to independent voters, and history shows that this system discourages participation.

Independent voters in the state can affiliate with a party through election day, but that has proven to be a significant roadblock to participation. In 2014, county clerks mailed notices to every independent voter in the state alerting them to this rule, and just 17,000, or 1.5%, took the steps needed to participate. 

Overall turnout in Colorado primary elections has been dropping since 2010, with just one in five voters casting ballots in 2014.

 â€œThere is a better way to operate primary elections in Colorado – and that is by treating the nearly 40% of voters who are unaffiliated the same as Republicans and Democrats – mailing them ballots,” said Kelly Brough, a co-chair of Let Colorado Vote. “It’s the fair thing to do, and making it easier for all voters to participate in elections strengthens our democracy.”

The current June primary does not include the presidential race, which is handled through a caucus and assembly process rather than official ballots.

Caucuses, which are held on a single day, further limit participation. Roughly 180,000 voters turned out for caucuses in Colorado this year, meaning that only 1 in 20 Colorado voters had a say in the presidential nominating process.
Let Colorado Vote is collecting petition signatures and conducting outreach and will submit petitions by the August deadline.

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