Unaffiliated voters account for about one-third of Colorado’s electorate, and on Tuesday, voters approved two propositions that will bring those without political affiliation into the fold in future primary elections.
While theoretically well-intentioned and inclusive, it will mean money and a rigorous public education campaign to implement successfully, though neither the state nor county election office knows what that might look like.
La Plata County Clerk & Recorder Tiffany Parker said the changes will complicate the process, and mistakes can nullify ballots: Under the new laws, unaffiliated voters will receive dual ballots containing both Democratic and Republican candidates, but the elector can select candidates from only one party. Crossing over would render the ballot void.
“Voter education is going to be significant,” Parker said. “I’m a supporter of bringing back the presidential (primary) ballot. The affiliation piece, I’m not sure how that will work, but that will be a conversation at the (Colorado County Clerks Association) conference in January.”
The passage of Propositions 107 and 108 will include Colorado’s substantial pool of party-less electors in primary election systems. Proposition 107, which creates a state presidential primary and will allow unaffiliated voters to cast ballots in it, received 63.7 percent of the state’s vote, according to unofficial results.
Proposition 108, which won 52.5 percent of the vote, will let party-less voters participate in nonpresidential primaries.
Both measures passed in La Plata County.
The new presidential primary system would transfer costs from parties to the state and counties, a challenge the state is grappling with. Administrative costs for the county in the 2020 election are projected at about $5.3 million, but how local election offices would be reimbursed remains in question.
“It will take $5 to $6 million to run a separate election from the state primary in June,” said Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert. “Right now, we don’t reimburse counties for primaries. If we had to reimburse total costs, that could result in an increase in fees, and that is really problematic. We believe that should come out of the general fund, not the Secretary of State budget. We think the General Assembly should fund it.”
The state also must navigate technical issues, such as figuring out a way for unaffiliated voters to identify on the ballot envelope which party they chose, and legislation to alter the timelines for holding primaries is probable in 2017.
A bipartisan state election commission will discuss the new system in a December meeting.
Presidential primaries were last held in Colorado in 2000, after which the state has used the caucus system. Long lines and confusion clouded the March presidential caucus, which prompted Proposition 107’s introduction.
But political parties say the new system not only violates the parties’ freedom of association, it will invite chaos.
In the coming months, the state GOP will figure out which of its bylaws might have to change, and whether the party will litigate, Party Chairman Steve House said.
“I would rather have had the opportunity to spend $5 million on roads, bridges, education – not on affiliation,” he said.