Colorado will elect a new governor in November, and at least a dozen candidates are currently in the running on both the Republican and Democratic sides. This year, unaffiliated voters have reason to take early notice in the race to replace term-limited Governor John Hickenlooper — and not just because of the dizzying number of candidates. Thanks to an open primaries ballot measure passed in 2016, voters who aren’t registered to either major party will able to help choose nominees for the first time in June. Proponents of the measure argued that opening up primaries to independents could give a boost to more moderate candidates and wrest some control from the hardcore partisans who cast a disproportionate number of primary votes.
In practice, though, the change adds a big unknown to an already wild race, with implications all the way down the ballot and even for the coffers of county governments. The cost of including Summit County’s roughly 9,000 independents in primaries this year is expected to come in at roughly $20,000, according to the Summit County Clerk and Recorder’s Office.
“What we’re all wondering is to what extent will unaffiliated voters take advantage of this change and participate, and that’s really and truly a wild card,” said County Commissioner Thomas Davidson, a Democrat. “Even when I talk to experts who do this for a living they say, ‘we don’t really know what’s going to happen.'”
Comparisons are hard to find. While many states have open primaries, none use mail-in ballots as extensively as Colorado, where voting for party nominees could add only a couple of minutes to a P.O. box trip. The question is whether the unprecedented convenience will matter.