Unaffiliated voters, who make up more than a third of registered voters in La Plata County, for the first time this year can participate in Colorado primary elections.
[image2:mugshot]They will be sent both the Democrat and Republican primary ballots, said county Clerk and Recorder Tiffany Parker. However, they may vote in only one primary. If an unaffiliated voter casts two ballots, neither ballot will be counted, Parker said.
“I really struggle with any kind of voided or rejected ballot,” Parker said. “I don’t want to ever see that.”
Unaffiliated voters can also choose a party preference, and they will be sent either the Republican or Democrat primary ballot. Choosing a party’s ballot in the primary does not mean the voter will become registered with that party, Parker said.
But state legislators passed a bill last year that requires counties to record which party unaffiliated voters cast ballots for. That information will be made public as part of a voter’s public profile, which can be purchased by candidates and other interested parties.
Some people register as unaffiliated voters to keep their party preference secret.
“I don’t know how unaffiliated voters are going to handle that,” Parker said.
Paul DeBell, an assistant professor of political science at Fort Lewis College, said he can see it playing out in two different ways.
On one hand, there are voters who won’t vote because they don’t want their party preference being known. On the other, voting for one party this election and another in the next election may reaffirm their independent identity.
“You can see that being in a way confirming their independent unaffiliated identity rather than pigeonholing them,” he said.
Parker said a third option is for voters to register with a party or switch affiliation, and they will be sent their party’s primary ballot.
The last day for voters to change their party affiliation and still be able to vote in the primary is May 29.
DeBell said participation from unaffiliated voters could possibly decrease polarization and bring more centrists voting on each party’s ballot.
He said mid-term primary elections generally have low voter turnout.
Some local candidates said they are adjusting their campaign strategy to target unaffiliated voters, while others say they haven’t given it much consideration.
Tim Walsworth, a Democrat running for La Plata County treasurer, said the addition of unaffiliated voters in the primary election has influenced his campaign strategy.
“There’s more unaffiliated voters in La Plata County than there are Democrats,” he said. “There’s more unaffiliated voters in La Plata County than there are Republicans. So they could swing the whole thing if every single one of them chose to vote.”
Walsworth said he has spoken to unaffiliated voters who are excited about the chance to participate, however, some were unaware they can vote in this year’s primary.
“It does impact strategy in that the best campaigns will try to reach out to that new voter block,” he said.
Walsworth has been including unaffiliated voters in his campaigning, such as sending out mailings and inviting them to events. He has been focused on reaching Democrats and unaffiliated voters but leans more toward reaching out to Democrats for the primary race.
His Democratic opponent, Allison Aichele, who is seeking re-election to the Treasurer’s Office, said she doesn’t plan to run her campaign any differently as a result of unaffiliated voters having a say in this year’s primary election.
She said her position as treasurer serves all residents, regardless of politics.
“When I knocked on doors four years ago, I didn’t have a Dem list or a Republican list or any other kind of list,” Aichele said. “I just went and knocked on doors and went to the next door and the next, and that’s all I’m doing this time.”
Colton Black, another candidate for treasurer, said unaffiliated voters are less likely to play a role in his primary election because he is running uncontested as a Republican.
But Black said he welcomes participation from unaffiliated voters to demonstrate a strong showing of support. It’s the first chance to assess how well his campaign is engaging that voter block, he said.
“I do still plan to get my name out there in front of the unaffiliated voters as much as possible,” he said.
Three candidates are running for La Plata County sheriff, including a Democrat, Republican and independent; none face contested primary elections.
Charles Hamby, the Republican for sheriff, said he is reaching out to voters across all parties.
“As sheriff, you represent all parties, everyone in your community, and I’ve been trying to make myself available to our entire community,” he said.
Sean Smith, the Democratic incumbent running for sheriff, said he will run his campaign exactly as he did last election.
“I will be soliciting the support of any voter that wants to hear about the Sheriff’s Office and the job that we’re doing, regardless of party or affiliation,” he said.
Ballots will be mailed the week of June 4 and should be mailed back no later than June 19, Parker said. There will be multiple in-person drop-off locations on Election Day, June 26.
There are 35,987 active registered voters in La Plata County: 11,412 Democrats, 10,803 Republicans, 13,005 unaffiliated, and 767 from third parties.
In 2016, Coloradans voted in favor of Proposition 108, which allows unaffiliated voters to participate in primary elections. La Plata County voted in favor of the proposition by a margin of 59 percent, according to election results from the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office.
Voters in 2016 also passed Proposition 107, which created a primary election for Colorado. Colorado previously used a caucus system.
The cost of the primary election will be similar to general elections in La Plata County, at $60,000, Parker said.