Whether it was local issues like secession from Colorado, or statewide school taxes, pot taxes or a new law that mailed a ballot to every voter, the numbers don’t lie. Turnout on Tuesday was remarkable: 319,225 more ballots cast this year compared to 2011, the last election without a presidential, gubernatorial or congressional race driving the fervor. To put it in perspective, that’s close to the whole population of Aurora joining the electorate this time around — or two Fort Collinses or three Boulders or 30 Lone Trees. You get the idea. (OK, one more 72 Ouray counties.) What drove the increase? A lot of things. Some of it could be attributed to almost 212,000 more registered voters since 2011 — from 3,350,219 two years ago to 3,562,184 on Tuesday. Colorado legislators this year also made mail-balloting the law, rather than just an option. The state has allowed voters to chose to get a ballot mailed to them for quite awhile, and in the general election last year 74 percent chose to do so. This year, that number grew to 100 percent of those, plus many more who had been deemed “inactive” for not voting in recent elections. Getting a ballot without leaving home likely pulled many of them still living in the state back into the fold.
But while the new law put quite a burden on the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office to implement in time — including an eight-and-a-half hour court hearing on election eve — it came with some mighty nice benefits, too. Anecdotally, on Election Day I talked to a handful of voters who said they were voting because they were able to change their addresses from one Colorado county to another and still cast a ballot Tuesday without having to go back to their old voting districts.
“The new election law is designed to make voting more accessible and simpler for voters. And it worked,” said Elena Nunez, executive director of Colorado Common Cause, the voting rights group that helped get the election law passed before the legislature last spring. “Problems reported on our nonpartisan voter hotline on Election Day were much easier to solve this year. If someone had moved, needed to update their registration information or replace a ruined ballot, we could direct them to any voter service center in their county right up to Election Day. In the past, it was much more complicated and many people just gave up.”