The Nov. 4 election demonstrated there is no guaranteed vote. Durango – 11 precincts – remained a Democratic stronghold, and unincorporated areas tended to tilt toward Republicans.
But there were defections and cases of half-hearted support.
Among the results:
If La Plata County had been the microcosm of voting, Democratic candidates would have won all seats, except one – the U.S. House seat taken by Scott Tipton, R-Cortez.
Even precincts that favored Democrats to some degree in all other races went to Tipton, including some outlying precincts of Durango. The only exceptions were precincts made up heavily of city residents and adjoining precincts 6 and 16, a narrow band that runs from downtown Durango north and west of U.S. Highway 550 to the San Juan County line.
The only race in which precinct 6 failed to remain solidly Democratic was in the governor’s race, in which it gave only lukewarm support to John Hickenlooper.
Precinct 29 sprawls along both sides of U.S. Highway from the mid-Animas Valley north to the San Juan County line. Voters there tended to lean slightly toward Republicans, except in the race for sheriff, where they went for the Democratic candidate to about the same degree that they supported the GOP.
In Precinct 24, mostly south of Ignacio, voters also tended to favor Republicans except in the race for county treasurer and the U.S. Senate, when they gave their vote to the Democratic candidates.
The unpredictable patterns were not lost on the chairwomen of the local Democratic and Republican parties.
The support for Mark Udall among voters in usually GOP-oriented precincts 14, 24 and 28 could indicate residents there looked at his entire résumé.
Udall lost the election, however, because too many voters saw him as a one-issue – women’s rights – candidate, said Democratic Party chairwoman Denise Bohemier said.
“He focused on more than women’s issues,” Bohemier said. “He championed privacy issues and he fought government overreach.”
Susan Terrill-Flint, chairwoman of the Republican Party, couldn’t comment.
“I’m not aware of the dynamics there,” she said.
Bohemier thinks La Plata County overall has moved toward her party since 2008, when President Obama was elected. The county since then has elected two Democratic county commissioners.
Terrill-Flint said that since arriving in 1965 to attend college, she has been most impressed by the number of voters abandoning the two major parties for the ranks of the unaffiliated.
“I think people are disgusted with both big parties,” Terrill-Flint said. “I find unaffiliated voters are passionate about the issues.”
Democrats are now engaging in self-assessment, she said. They’re trying to figure out why voters are turning against them.
Overall, La Plata County voter turnout was about 1 percent higher than the state as a whole, which registered the fourth highest percentage of voter turnout in the country.
Voter turnout was more impressive when looking at just “active voters” – those who voted in the last election. Among those county voters, 7,883 of 10,549 active registered Democrats (74.7 percent) voted; 8,226 of 10,703 active Republicans (76.8 percent) voted; and 7,106 of 12,625 active unaffiliated voters (56.3 percent) turned in a ballot.
As a whole, 53 percent of Coloradans voted. Nationwide, only Maine, Wisconsin and Alaska had a better showing with 59.3, 56.9 and 55.3 percent, respectively.
Tiffany Parker, La Plata County clerk and recorder, said stronger Republican showing at the polls is consistent with 2010 and 2014, both off-year (nonpresidential) elections.
Trish Pegram, chairwoman of the League of Women Voters of La Plata County, said this year’s voting results seemed to follow a well-rooted pattern – Democrats dominating Durango city limits and Republicans controlling unincorporated areas.
The tight race for State House District 59 between Mike McLachlan and J. Paul Brown shows that pattern. A landslide in either direction would have shown some other factors at work, Pegram said. In La Plata County, McLachlan won, but in the district, Brown beat him by 168 votes.
Pegram, who worked at the Clerk and Recorders Office on Election Day, found numerous voters still unfamiliar with mail-in balloting. Some were upset at not having a polling place.
Parker said the cost of polling-place elections in November 2010 and November 2012 was $118,558 and $130,655, respectively. This year’s mail balloting cost $73,662.
Parker said 15 percent of voters cast ballots on Election Day.
On nonpartisan issues, two constitutional amendments and two propositions, La Plata County voters were almost of like minds across the spectrum.
Neither Amendment 67, which would have counted unborn humans as a person in criminal matters, or Amendment 68, which proposed using money from the expansion of limited gambling at race tracks for elementary education, won 50 percent of the vote in any La Plata County precinct.
In fact, they were defeated 70.1 to 29.9 and 67.9 to 32.1 percent, respectively. Statewide, Amendment 67 lost 63.6 to 36.4 percent, and Amendment 68 lost 71.6 to 28.4 percent.
Proposition 104, which called for open collective bargaining in school districts, and Proposition 105, which requires labeling of genetically modified food, both won voter approval in La Plata County.
Proposition 104 was approved in all precincts, overall 68.98 to 31.02 percent. Proposition 105 won majority support in all but nine precincts, winning 55.23 to 44.77 percent overall.
Statewide, Proposition 104 was approved 69.7 to 30.3 percent, and Proposition was defeated 67.7 to 32.3 percent.