APR’s state ballot series: primary elections

Oct 6, 2016

  Propositions 107 and 108 — Primary elections

Both propositions would allow unaffiliated voters to cast ballots in a primary election

The two measures are similar, but differentiate between presidential year and off-year elections. Currently, Colorado voters who wish to participate in a primary election — held in June each year — must include a political party affiliation in their voter registration. They then get a ballot listing only races that have candidates of that party.

Colorado is described as a “purple” state because about 30 percent of the electorate identify as independent voters. In the view of proponents of 107 and 108, this is leaving a large portion of the population disenfranchised.  

Valley local Scott Writer identifies as an independent. He said he prefers that term over “unaffiliated.”

“I think that there are unaffiliateds out there who are apathetic, but I think there is a very large group of true Independents who really revel in our positions in the political process and really think that our voice is important,” he said. “We just don't really have a platform.”     

Writer ran for Pitkin County commissioner in the 1990s as an Independent, and this fall faces Democrat Greg Poschman for a seat on that same board. In the time between, he has never cast a ballot in a primary election because he would have had to identify as either a Democrat or Republican.

“There were times I really thought about declaring for a party so that I could vote in a primary, but I ultimately decided that I liked my independent label better than casting that one single vote in a primary with people who seemed already pretty sure of who they were going to be picking,” he said.

Writer suspects that that one-third statistic is truly higher in Colorado; that many voters are only declaring party affiliation in order to cast primary votes. But, if propositions 107 and 108 were to pass, the number of independents in the state would sky rocket.

Prop. 107 only addresses presidential-year elections. It asks if there should be presidential primaries held before March, in which unaffiliated voters can cast a ballot. The measure is tricky because it ties the switch from the caucus process to a secret-ballot election together with opening the vote up to non-declared voters.

Prop. 108 addresses elections in years when there is no presidential race. It also has two concurrent issues within its language. It would allow unaffiliated voters to vote during Colorado’s June primaries. At the same time, it would allow a party to bypass primary elections all together, and create a different system for nominating a representative in which they could ban unaffiliated voters from participating.

Local election officials would not speak on the record about these proposals in order to maintain the integrity of their positions. However, these measures would directly affect the clerks of Piktin, Eagle, and Garfield counties.

The estimated cost to counties to conduct presidential primaries is over $5 million each — a portion of which would be reimbursed by the state. The administrative costs of the open June primary elections would also rise.

Statewide, clerks say the proposals create needless overhead to change a system that works fine, because voters are allowed to return their registration to “unaffiliated” once the primary season is over.

Writer said the potential for additional costs should not be considered a negative, but seen as a sign of a working democracy.

“I think that what would happen is that more people would show up at those primaries and they are going to be people they are not used to listening to,” Writer said. “I like the idea of shaking the tree and having people express their opinion without having to say ‘I’m one of you’”

Note: This fall, Aspen Public Radio is exploring how statewide measures play out in the Roaring Fork Valley. Tune in each week to hear an analysis of each initiative. For a complete look at election coverage, click here.