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Primary Problem

Colorado primary recap: 4% of voters decided 82% of the State House

Discover how the Primary Problem has influenced Colorado State house races, underscoring the urgent need for electoral reform.

Ross Sherman
Press Director
June 26, 2024

While most of the post-primary conversation has focused on individual candidates and intra-party ideological battles, the key takeaway from Tuesday’s elections is that 82% of Colorado State House races (53 of 65) have effectively been decided by a measly 4% of Colorado voters. (These 53 elections represent “safe” or uncompetitive districts, where the Democratic or Republican candidate won by more than 10 percentage points in 2022.)

“Party primaries leave most Americans without a true choice in the general election. Colorado voters deserve more say in picking their politicians, and a greater ability to hold them accountable. All-candidate primaries would deliver that,” said Nick Troiano, Executive Director of Unite America and author of The Primary Solution, referencing the proposed election reform headed to Colorado’s ballot this November.

According to Unite America’s analysis of election night results, approximately 4% of eligible Colorado voters cast a ballot in the party primary that all but decided those 82% of state house races. (Note: ~90% of votes have been counted, according to the New York Times. While not complete results, we don’t expect the final percentages to change much.)

Further, 39 races featured a candidate running unopposed in their primary in a district that’s safe for their party, guaranteeing their election without having to win a single vote. As a result, 2.3 million Colorado voters (61% of active registered voters) didn’t have a say in who represents them in the state house come 2025.

Examples of state house candidates selected without needing to win a single vote:

Representatives shown L-R in order of the bullets listed below.
  • Rep. Emily Sirota (HD-9): Effectively elected by just 14% of active registered voters in her district in 2018, she has not faced a competitive election since.
  • Rep. Javier Mabrey (HD-1): Elected in 2022 in an uncontested primary, he has never faced a competitive election.
  • Rep. Scott Bottoms (HD-15): Elected in 2022 in an uncontested primary, he has never faced a competitive election.
  • Rep. Ken DeGraaf (HD-22): Elected in 2022 in an uncontested primary, he has never faced a competitive election.

For a deeper understanding of the factors contributing to Colorado's highly polarized legislature, explore our detailed analysis here.

These same dynamics — where very few voters are electing most representatives — also played out across the Colorado Senate and the state’s congressional delegation. Six of Colorado’s eight U.S. House seats (75%) are uncompetitive in the general election, so Tuesday’s primary was the election of consequence. Rep. Lauren Boebert, for example, won her seat in a race where about 21% of voters in her district participated.

For more on Colorado’s “Primary Problem," check out Unite America Institute’s full analysis.