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Colorado to Open Its Primary Elections to Independents?

by Caitlin Hurkes, published

After the Colorado Legislature failed to pass two bills that would 1) establish a presidential primary and 2) open primary elections to independents, citizens are taking these measures into their own hands.

One group, Let Colorado Vote, is working toward placing two initiatives on the November ballot. One initiative would re-institute a presidential primary and open it to unaffiliated voters, and the second initiative would open all remaining statewide primary elections to the state’s 1.3 million unaffiliated voters.

Independent (or unaffiliated) voters are the fastest growing voting bloc in the United States, representing 42% of voters and now outnumbering Republicans and Democrats.

In Colorado, unaffiliated voters are the largest voting bloc, making up almost 37% of the electorate. In 2014 alone, a staggering 67% of new registrants in Colorado chose to be unaffiliated.

"Because all taxpayers pay for elections, it’s not right to force voters who want to be independent to join a political party just to have their voice heard," Let Colorado Vote argues.

It is likely these initiatives will be on the November ballot. In fact, Colorado resident and famed signature-gatherer Carlo Scarsella uses the lure of a possible presidential primary that is open to independents as a way to spark interest in other state initiatives.

Scarsella told Colorado Public Radio that “there are so many disenfranchised unaffiliateds that they’re everywhere. So really grabs their interest.”

There was quite the outrage among Colorado voters this year after the chaotic caucuses. Democratic voters were frustrated by the long waits and overcrowded precincts. On the other side, Republican voters didn’t even have the chance to participate because the Republican Party decided against holding a presidential preference poll at their caucus.

And, the notion of an open presidential primary especially grabs voters' interest now because the March caucuses proved how limiting this type of election system is to voter participation.

Caucuses limit participation, Let Colorado Vote explains. There are more than 3.6 million registered voters in Colorado and only 5% participated in the caucuses. Compare this to Wisconsin’s open presidential primary turnout of 49%.

Let Colorado Vote points out that Colorado is one of just 20 states where unaffiliated voters can’t participate in the presidential nominating process without first re-registering with a political party, one of 17 states that close congressional primaries to unaffiliated voters, and one of only 13 states where legislative primaries are closed to independents. Not to mention, Colorado is one of just 14 states that rely on a caucus system.

In November, Colorado could join the majority of states that allow independent voters the chance to participate in primary elections that are taxpayer-funded.

As Joey Bunch of The Denver Post explains:

“It’s their tax dollars paying for these primaries. That’s like throwing a party in my backyard, drinking my beer, and then telling me I can’t come.”

Photo credit: Sarah Lyons

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