DENVER – Democrats and Republicans battling in close contests for the governor’s office and U.S. Senate in Colorado are wading into new territory with the advent of Election Day voter registration and ballots being mailed to every registered elector.
The changes passed by Democrats who control the Colorado Legislature mean campaigns are making their final arguments to voters weeks in advance of Nov. 4, and they’re sprinting to the very end to get every possible voter registered and voting. It has also prompted concerns from Republicans about greater chances for voter fraud – a worry that Democrats don’t share.
Already, 518,610 people have voted since ballots were mailed early last week. Last year, in an election with only two statewide ballot measures, there were 1.4 million votes. In the 2012 presidential year, nearly 2.6 million people voted.
At the current pace this year, a big portion of the Colorado vote will likely be in before Nov. 4.
“Now you gotta get the vote out for literally almost three weeks,” said Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who signed the election changes passed by his party and is now running for re-election against Republican Bob Beauprez, a former congressman.
Beauprez is feeling the same urgency.
“You pretty well have to have your whole game plan out there and your case made so early now,” he said.
Hickenlooper has made Colorado’s improving economy a major part of his pitch to voters, citing the state’s 4.7 percent unemployment rate, which was at just over 9 percent when he took office. Beauprez, meanwhile, contends that the economic recovery is still spotty, with places like Grand Junction and Colorado Springs seeing slower growth.
While every registered voter is getting a ballot by mail, they can still drop off their materials on Election Day at a precinct center. And unlike previous elections, when voters had to be registered weeks in advance, they can now do so until polls close.
Chris Harris, spokesman for Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, said that has forced the campaign to reach out to more people.
“That’s a good thing,” he said.
Udall is facing U.S. Republican Rep. Cory Gardner in a tight race that can determine which party controls the Senate.
“We have an aggressive outreach program across all four corners of Colorado and ensuring voters return their ballots will continue to be a main focus of the campaign,” Matt Connelly, Gardner’s campaign spokesman, said in a statement.
About a dozen states allow Election Day voter registration, including Montana, where Republicans are trying to rescind the law through a ballot initiative next month. Same-day voter registration was instrumental in electing Montana U.S. Sen Jon Tester, a Democrat.
In overhauling Colorado’s election laws in 2013, Democrats joined liberal state legislatures like California and Maryland in trying to expand the window for people to vote – a tack that traditionally helps younger and poorer voters who favor Democrats.
Republicans, however, are wary.
Secretary of State Scott Gessler, a Republican who oversees elections in Colorado, opposed the Democrats’ election-law overhaul. He said the new rules increase the possibility for voter fraud because ballots can be mailed to places where someone no longer lives, potentially leaving those ballots to be used by someone else.
“It really creates some vulnerabilities in our system,” said Gessler, who has repeatedly butted heads with Democrats over election law during his four years in office.