Unaffiliated Voters Increase as Colorado Secretary of State Keeps It Clean

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The deadline to turn in signatures pushing initiatives for Colorado's general-election ballot in November was 3 p.m. August 8, and as Westword was broadcasting a Facebook Live interview with Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, word came down that a U-Haul loaded with petitions for 75 and 78 — which push for more fracking regulation — had just pulled up. Not at the eleventh hour, Williams noted, but closer to midnight.

All told, signatures for eleven initiatives were submitted to the Secretary of State by the deadline, out of more than two dozen measures that were initially proposed.  Only one, Initiative 69, also known as ColoradoCare, has already been certified for the ballot. Over the next several weeks, the Secretary of State's Office will be conducting random samplings of the signatures collected for other initiatives to see if they have the nearly 100,000 legit signatures required to get on the ballot.

The proponents of Raise the Bar, Initiative 96, don't think that requirement is stiff enough for a potential change to the Colorado Constitution. They turned in their signatures last week for a measure that, if passed, would raise the number of signatures required to 2 percent of the registered voters in each of Colorado’s 35 State Senate districts — and then require approval by 55 percent of voters in a statewide election in order to amend the state constitution.

Right now, whether a proposal calls for a statutory or a constitutional amendment, proponents must submit qualified signatures equaling only 5 percent of the previous Secretary of State vote total to place the initiative on the ballot — which translates to about 98,000 this round.

Verifying the signatures is only the start of the work at the Secretary of State's Office. Colorado may be the only state in the country that does a thorough cleaning of its voters' rolls every month. Officials do this by using United States Postal Service information as well as other databases. If a mailing, such as a ballot, comes back as undeliverable, "the county is then required to send a confirmation card," says Judd Choate, director of elections for the State of Colorado. If that card comes back as undeliverable, the voter is flipped to inactive by the Secretary of State's office.

"We as a state have really prioritized list maintenance," Choate adds. "We want the cleanest possible list, because we're a mail-ballot state." 

Pretty good for a state whose election system was labeled "rigged" by Donald Trump.

Since Colorado's primary was in June, undeliverable ballots could help account for why the number of active voters in Colorado dropped from July 1 to August 1. "The number may have shifted because primary ballots bounced," says Choate. "We're constantly cleaning the list." 

As of July 1, Secretary of State statistics showed the ranks of Colorado's active voters included 980,352 registered Democrats and 988,410 registered Republicans; as of August 1, those numbers had dropped to 953,042 registered Democrats and 964,738 registered Republicans. But the number of inactive voters in each party had increased significantly: to 199,109 Democrats and 173,100 Republicans (from 170,096 and 148,092) respectively.

One category of active voter did not drop during the month: The number of active unaffiliated voters went from 1,003,628 on July 1 to 1,020,697 on August 1, and the number of inactive unaffiliated voters actually dropped: from 280,779 to 278,203. But then, unaffiliated voters weren't mailed primary ballots — and there are plenty of reasons that new Colorado voters might want to register as unaffiliated. (We can think of two right off the bat.)

But being bumped to inactive doesn't mean you can't vote. It just means that the county clerk won't automatically send you a ballot for the next election; you'll have to ask for one or go to a polling place. For that matter, you can register to vote on election day, too: You simply need to prove you've been a resident of Colorado for 22 days.

Want to check your voting status? Go to govotecolorado.com. And follow the progress of the proposed initiatives here.

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