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Election changes proposed for Colorado despite 2nd highest voter turnout

Colorado voters had the second highest turnout rate in the nation last year, even without a presidential race or US Senate race on the ballot. So, what does the No. 2 state do now? Figure out how to get more votes from the portion of the population that procrastinates.

DENVER — Colorado voters had the second highest turnout in the 2018 election, yet there is a bill at the State Capitol to reform how we vote.

In November, 2,586,043 voters in Colorado cast ballots:

  • 2,465,083 (95.3% by mail)
  • 120,960 (4.7% in person)

Of those who voted in person, 91,131 showed up on Election Day itself:

  • 44,536: just to vote
  • 36,477: update registration
  • 10,130: register to vote

We'll do the math for you. The 44,536 who showed up on Election Day just to vote represents 1.7% of all voters, yet the bill lawmakers are considering would make multiple changes for those who want to vote in person.

"We had some elections won by some pretty small margins last year, and actually, some of them were less than four percent," said Rep. Susan Lontine (D-Denver). "It may be a small percentage, but those percentages can make the difference in an election in a tight year."

Despite not having a presidential or U.S. Senate race on the ballot, Colorado still had the second highest turnout in the nation. If previous presidential-year elections are any indication, the 2020 turnout will increase.

The changes in the bill would increase the number of 24-hour drop boxes for voters to deliver their ballots. It would also add more vote centers in the majority of Colorado counties.

"On Election Day, just in 2018, we had 25 locations with over an hour long wait time to vote," said Secretary of State Jena Griswold.

And on Election Day itself, the bill proposes keeping vote centers open longer. Instead of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., they would stay open 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

"We actually see the long lines start in early afternoon, so it's not that everybody is getting there at 6:58 p.m. and the long line is starting. The long line is starting earlier than that," said Griswold.

"It's human nature to wait until the last minute and that's what we see with voters and their patterns of voting," said Pam Anderson, executive director of the Colorado County Clerks Association. "The issue is, does this solution fit the problem?"

She suggested dealing with the check-in process to deal with long waits instead of offering more locations which would need more election judges, staffing and equipment.

"We can take the check-in time from a five-to-seven minute transaction down to two-to-three minutes. We think that solution would solve the problems, rather than a large number of in-person locations that may not meet the need," said Anderson. "We're not sure that it makes sense to spend more than $3.5 million for a fraction of voting population."

The cost of the bill would involve equipping new voting locations, but mainly the ballot boxes, which cost $1,200 for the box and $1,500 for the security equipment.

"What my commitment is is to make sure that we also help pay for this omnibus bill by paying for new drop boxes and the security that goes with them," said Griswold. "We reached out to the federal government, who provided us with these funds, and they are aware of our plans to use this money to add more drop boxes."

The bill would also allow 17-year-olds the opportunity to vote in a primary if they will be turning 18 prior to the general election. In-person early voting locations would also go away.

"We're actually getting rid, if this bill does pass, of a lot of the early voting because the data just shows that a lot of Coloradans just aren't going in early," said Griswold.

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