Open primaries in Colorado casts the shadow of party affiliation in last-minute legislation
Author: Joey Bunch - May 8, 2017 - Updated: July 31, 2017
My pal Charles Ashby of the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel shined a light Friday on a last-minute bill that calls into question how open voters intended primaries to be when they passed Proposition 107 and Proposition 108 last year.
Proposition 107 created a presidential primary for Colorado, and Proposition 108 allows unaffiliated voters to participate without signing up with the parties.
With just a week left in the session last Wednesday, Sens. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, and Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, dropped Senate Bill 305 to implement a method for unaffiliated voters — Colorado’s largest bloc — to participate in party primaries.
The big question is whether primary voters should get a ballot for each party’s primary or one mega-ballot. Some counties can’t figure out how to process a mega ballot, that’s one problem, Lundberg and Fenberg cited.
The other is the high rate of mistakes, caused by voters thinking they can pick and choose from the different parties.
“It’s a high priority to make it crystal clear and as straightforward as possible, and that’s why two separate ballots makes more sense,” Lundberg said.
He said the decision on how to organize the election can’t wait until next year, and give the Secretary of State’s Office adequate time to plan the election. That’s especially true with the litigious nature of election changes in general.
But that’s not what voters saw on their ballot in November, said Sen. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, who carried the bill last year that referred the question to voters.
All political parties that are entitled to participate in the primary election shall have their candidates placed on a single ballot …” and goes to carve out an exception for counties that can’t handle combined ballots.
“Now we’re going to say, Let’s forget that. Sorry, voters, we don’t buy it. We don’t believe it will work, so we’re going to change the process,'” Moreno said on the Senate floor Friday. “We haven’t even tried it yet.”
Legislators had tried and failed last year to handle the open primary issue, before referring it to the voters. Some lawmakers in each party did not want to open their party primaries to people who were unaffiliated, saying it was like letting Baptists vote on the Pope.
Charles explained the spin-off problems in Senate Bill 305 beautifully in Friday’s Daily Sentinel:
The bill, which won preliminary approval in the Colorado Senate on Friday, calls for sending voters two ballots during a primary election, with instructions to return only one.
But the bill also calls for creating a special box in voter registration forms allowing unaffiliated voters to chose a preference without actually affiliating with a party.
While they are not required to do so, those who do would only receive that party’s primary ballot for all future primaries until the voter designates a change.
Additionally, their names will be recorded in the Statewide Voter Registration System as making a preference for that party, even though they are not official members.
Lawmakers tried and failed to pass a temporary affiliation to vote in a primary.
Corey Hutchins of the Colorado Independent and the Columbia Journalism Review, has been ringing that bell way ahead of everyone else.
Secretary of State Wayne Williams explained the reasoning to Corey:
“No one has a right or ability to know how you voted, but they have a right to know in what election you voted,” Williams said. “We’re not like a dictatorship where we say, ‘Trust us comrade, a lot of people voted and they didn’t vote for you, but I’m not going to tell you who those people are who voted.’”
Gulp. I thought my vote was supposed to be private. Now everyone will know I always vote for the All Night Party. Or how about this for an analogy? You might not know if I voted for Donald or Daffy in the general election, but if I voted for the Disney ballot in the primary, it wouldn’t be hard to figure out.
Proposition 108’s ballot title included “… allowing an unaffiliated elector to vote in the primary election of a major political party without declaring an affiliation with that political party.”
An affiliation is like being known by the company you keep.
Corey and I discussed the open primary’s potential impact to privacy for journalists over a couple of e-mails the other day. I told him independence from partisan labels and perceptions is a small price to pay to be as fair a journalist as you can be.
I don’t want to be perceived as having a rooting interest, so I won’t be voting in the first primary that allows unaffiliated folks like me. I was going to write in Ashby’s name for governor, but not if people are going to know I support the lunatic party.
I was able to get a statement John Hereford, the vice chair of Let Colorado Vote, the main architects behind propositions 107 and 108.
“The Lundberg-Fenberg bill is a last-minute, backdoor cram-down by the very same party operatives who fought open primaries last fall,” he said. “Contrary to the very clear wishes of voters, the bill forces independents trying to participate in a primary to become a de facto member of that party. That’s not an open primary.
“That’s an end run around the very clear view of voters who broadly supported the right of independents to, without bias or unreasonable restriction, vote in a primary of their choice. What these legislators and the secretary of state could not accomplish during the election process, they are trying to accomplish through this legislation and ‘rule-making,’ which is to weaken and undermine the intent of 107 and 108.”