Implementation of Proposition 108 will be a ‘grand experiment’

Author: Ken Toltz - August 17, 2017 - Updated: August 17, 2017

Ken Toltz
Ken Toltz

The grand experiment in Colorado elections, set for next summer, is becoming a divisive Republican Party topic. In the past, only voters registered as Democrat or Republican could legally vote in the primary, which chooses the party’s general election nominee for federal and state elected offices. Thanks to last November’s passage of Prop. 108, 2018’s primary will be the first Colorado election under the new “open primary” rules, with unknown effect.

Colorado’s June 26 2018 primary elections will be the live test to see if allowing unaffiliated voters to choose a favorite primary candidate will indeed increase voter participation.  Former Colorado GOP Chair Dick Wadhams felt compelled to defend Republican Party participation in the new open primary in a recent Denver Post editorial, “State GOP shouldn’t cancel ’18 primary” – Aug. 13, 2017.

Responding to a petition calling for a Republican Party central committee vote to opt out of the open primary, Wadhams wrote, “Let there be no mistake about it: If the primary is cancelled and nominations are left to few thousand activists…Republicans will pay politically.”

In addition to increasing voter participation, Prop. 108 proponents suggested their open primary scheme would impact candidates’ platforms and campaigns. Will candidates indeed appeal to a broader range of voters, not just the most active and ideologically committed of their party?  That is one of the theories to be tested.

The implementation however, is also a grand experiment.  According to the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office, the state legislature through bipartisan passage of SB 305 created the implementation guidelines which are being finalized now.  All unaffiliated voters will be mailed two full primary ballots comprised of each party’s primary candidates.  However, here’s the catch: Voters who choose to vote for either a Republican or Democrat candidate for governor may only vote down-ballot for that same party’s primary candidates for other offices, say U.S. House or state legislature.

In effect, the top-line gubernatorial race will have an inordinate impact on unaffiliated voter participation in down-ballot primary races.  For example, if an unaffiliated voter wants to vote for a Republican gubernatorial candidate, they are barred from voting for a Democratic congressional primary candidate. As a prospective congressional primary candidate in CD2, that aspect concerns me.

Why should the congressional or state legislative primary be impacted by the governor’s race?  Won’t independent voters want to vote independently?  Isn’t it likely that unaffiliated voters will be confused and spoil their ballots by picking and choosing various candidates in each race, regardless of party affiliation?

Or perhaps, unaffiliated voters will simply opt out since being forced to choose from only one party’s candidates goes against the very reason they’re not registered with one political party to begin with.  One wonders if unaffiliated voters were consulted and included as Prop. 108 and the SB305 implementation rules were created.

Ken Toltz

Ken Toltz

Ken Toltz lives in Boulder and was the 2000 Democratic nominee for Colorado’s 6th Congressional District and is currently a prospective candidate for Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District.