El Paso County deeply values its right to vote. Nearly 70 percent of the county participated in the 2012 general election. But this year, nearly half a million people in El Paso County will vote on presidential candidates chosen for them by the 5 percent who attend caucuses. Sadly, if you are an unaffiliated voter, you were banned from the primary voting process.
To strengthen our democracy, participation in our elections must be encouraged. That's why Let Colorado Vote supports Propositions 107 and 108.
The caucus system disenfranchises not only unaffiliated voters but party members as well. Our military service members, those who work nights and parents without child care face enormous challenges to participating in elections held just one night of the year. Restoring the presidential primary would give voters weeks to cast a ballot, opening the system to many more voices.
We believe that primaries are fundamental to our democracy. We also believe that unaffiliated taxpayers should be able to participate in choosing candidates who will represent them on the general election ballot.
The parties offer an invaluable structure to our democracy and elections. However, all taxpayers pay for primary elections. When all taxpayers are providing the funds to conduct "party business," those taxpayers have a right to participate, even if they are unaffiliated.
Statewide, more than 1 million unaffiliated voters can't participate in primary elections or caucuses unless they give up their unaffiliated status. Unaffiliated voters, the largest and fastest-growing voting group in the state, should have a voice in our elections without having to change their unaffiliated status.
Opponents of 107 and 108 are worried about ballot spoilage. It's a valid issue of concern, but the spoilage prediction in the Blue Book, 7 percent, is factually incorrect. That figure was taken from a different state with a different system of voting and incorrectly applied to Colorado. Much of that percentage results from the pitfalls of a mail-in ballot system, like late returns and improper signature validation.
We have calculated that less than 1 percent of the ballots of unaffiliated voters might be invalidated due to 107 and 108. That's a far cry from 7 percent and well worth the risk if it means more than 1 million Coloradans can participate in our elections.
We need representatives who are interested in solving Colorado's challenges. We face more gridlock than ever. Opening primaries will introduce into our primary elections voters less interested in scoring political points and more interested in candidates who can make policies that are right for Colorado.
Colorado leads the nation in so many ways, from voter registration to election turnout and ease of voting. However, we're one of only a few remaining states that continue to restrict primary participation. We can't be left behind when it comes to including taxpaying citizens in the electoral process.
We're all better off when we have more voices participating in our elections.
Choosing correctly on ballot questions can be like house hunting. Mistakes can be made if you choose mainly on curb appeal, without taking time to do a careful inspection.
Two issues on the November ballot with a great deal of curb appeal are Proposition 107 and 108. They seem like easy sells because they promise that every voter can participate in a presidential primary and all other primaries, regardless of party affiliation. But closer inspection, and a bit more understanding of how elections really work, reveals defects in both proposals that should lead citizens to vote no.
The idea of bringing back the presidential primary in 2020 is popular across the political spectrum, so what's not to like in Proposition 107? The short answer is that it contains radical and problematic provisions that are not needed to establish a presidential primary.
Why, for example, must we have a "winner-take-all" presidential primary? If there is a three-way race for a presidential nomination and the winning candidate gets 39 percent, why should that candidate get 100 percent of the state's delegates? Why not proportional delegate allocation? Each party can decide such details for itself, without locking them into state statute.
A separate March primary will cost Colorado taxpayers over $5 million, imposing substantial costs on local government that voters may not be aware of. The proposal also lets the governor set the date for the primary, without consulting either the secretary of state or party officials, creating a unilateral authority subject to partisan abuse.
Finally, unaffiliated voters already can participate in any party caucus simply by changing registration 60 days before the caucus meeting. Every unaffiliated voter receives a notice informing him or her of that option.
So Proposition 107 is a nonstarter, and 108 is even worse.
Giving unaffiliated voters a voice in Democratic and Republican primaries invites mischief and could easily sabotage the selection of the party's strongest candidate. Why? Because it will permit Democrats and Republicans to change registration to unaffiliated and vote in the other party's primary - right up to election day, an option not available under current law.
Political parties are private membership organizations. They have a right to select their candidates without influence from people who choose not to affiliate. The claim that unaffiliated voters have been "disenfranchised" is ridiculous because they themselves have chosen to not join a political party. No one denied them that option.
Finally, county clerks believe that producing and processing a separate combined ballot for unaffiliated voters will create significant administrative and financial burdens for counties, adding substantial cost for taxpayers. It will also lead to thousands of spoiled ballots that will never be counted.
Because of these and other issues, Senate Republicans last session decided there was no good reason to rush to conclusions on such questions. There's plenty of time to study and debate the matter more thoroughly in the next legislative session and hopefully get it right. Propositions 107 and 108 are filled with features that would take Colorado in the wrong direction.
Kent Thiry is chairman and CEO of DaVita Healthcare Partners Inc., headquartered in Denver, and chairman of Let Colorado Vote. Kevin Grantham is the state senator for Senate District 2, which includes part of El Paso County, and serves on the Joint Budget Committee.