DENVER - Two weeks before Election Day, 186,365 ballots have been turned in across the state as voters grapple with a proposed income tax hike that would bring in almost $1 billion in its first year for education.
Pollsters watching the early trends are saying it's too early to tell whether voters are fired up about this election, but at the least it's on par with past elections dominated by local school board elections and a few statewide issues.
"There's a couple of reasons why we could maybe expect a higher turnout this year than in a typical off-year election," said Ryan Winger, who is analyzing early voter statistics for Magellan Strategies. "One of the reasons is the new election law."
He explained that some people might not be interested in voting but since they got a ballot in the mail, the fact that they see an ad about one of the state issues might prompt them to cast their vote.
More than 3 million ballots were mailed to Colorado voters last week in advance of the Nov. 5 election. A new law requires elections to be conducted primarily through mail ballots and has closed traditional neighborhood precincts.
While most of the ballots contain local school board races, there are two statewide tax questions - a proposed income tax increase to pay for education and two taxes on recreational marijuana sales.
Amendment 66 proposes increasing the state income tax from 4.63 percent to 5 percent and creating a new tax bracket, so all income over $75,000 would be taxed at 5.9 percent.
The tax increase would generate $950 million in additional revenue in fiscal year 2014-15 and it would be spent on education, mostly at the discretion of local school districts and school boards.
Colorado Commits to Kids, a campaign finance committee pushing for Amendment 66 to pass, has spent $4.5 million on advertisements, yard signs and a slick website loaded with information. Another $3.3 million was still in the campaign's coffers on Oct. 15.
"We like what we're seeing," said Curtis Hubbard, spokesman for Colorado Commits to Kids. "We obviously have a long way to go and we're not where we want to be yet."
According to statistics from the Secretary of State's Office, of the 186,365 ballots that have arrived at clerk and recorder offices across the state, 80,689 are from Republicans, 55,326 are from Democrats and 48,594 are from unaffiliated voters.
In El Paso County, according to that data, 20,071 ballots have been turned in and of those 10,668 are from Republicans, 4,016 are from Democrats and 5,161 are from unaffiliated voters.
Members of the GOP have been predominately leading the opposition to Amendment 66, although proponents frequently say the tax increase has bipartisan support.
"We are finding more and more people have heard our message, they understand it and it's resonating with them that for a small price they can see big changes," Hubbard said.
He's still on the fence about whether the mail-in ballots will help or hurt the measure.
Winger said higher turnout might be a good thing for the propositions.
"The more motivated voters, who are motivated to vote in the off-year elections, tend to be older voters who may not have kids at home or any interest in the public school system," he said. "The younger the age of the electorate, probably the better for the prospect of Amendment 66."
In 2011 almost 1 million voters participated in the election, Winger said, and that off-year election also had a proposed income tax increase for education - Proposition 103. Voters rejected that tax increase by almost 65 percent.
At the time, Proposition 103 would have generated roughly $400 million in additional revenue for schools by raising the income tax rate to 5 percent. It didn't include a higher tax bracket.
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