Low turnout highlights need to include independent voters in taxpayer-financed elections
DENVER â€” 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 â€“ just 5 percent of active voters â€“ 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.
â€œWhile Coloradoâ€™s general elections draw high interest and turnout, primary elections have been losing significance, and are weak links in Coloradoâ€™s democracy,â€ said Kent Thiry, co-chair of the Let Colorado Vote campaign. â€œWe 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.â€
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 stateâ€™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 â€“ and that is by treating the nearly 40% of voters who are unaffiliated the same as Republicans and Democrats â€“ mailing them ballots,â€ said Kelly Brough, a co-chair of Let Colorado Vote. â€œItâ€™s the fair thing to do, and making it easier for all voters to participate in elections strengthens our democracy.â€
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.
For more information, visit: www.letcovote2016.com.