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Stand against the Colorado Legislature's effort to thwart the will of voters

Unite America Executive Director Nick Troiano Comments on Colorado's Controversial Election Amendment

Nick Troiano
Executive Director
June 6, 2024

As published in The Daily Sentinel Grand Junction, CO on June 6, 2024

As the most polarized state Legislature in the country, gridlock in the Colorado capitol tends to be the norm. Yet in the twilight hours of the 2024 legislative session, an amendment to an elections bill was “introduced, explained and passed within a minute.” What could have possibly sailed through the Colorado Legislature with such ease?

Sadly, the answer may not shock you: The amendment was the latest brazen maneuver by politicians to thwart the will of the voters. It attempts to delay, if not altogether ban, a popular proposed election reform headed to the ballot this November that would give every Colorado voter the freedom to vote for any candidate in every taxpayer-funded election.

Unfortunately, if there’s one thing politicians can agree on, it’s holding onto power. The amendment, championed by Rep. Emily Sirota (D-Denver), is a cynical act of political self-preservation. Coloradans must seize this moment to speak out against partisans who think elections belong to them and not to voters.

The problem with Colorado’s elections is that most districts are so lopsided for either Democrats or Republicans in the general election that races are typically decided months earlier in one party’s primary. Primary turnout is abysmal — averaging 23% since 2010. And 60% of state house primaries are going uncontested this year, denying voters a meaningful choice. In the 2022 election, the state house was effectively elected by just 13% of Colorado voters. This is Colorado’s Primary Problem.

When you need only win the support of a small fraction of voters from your party’s base to take office, there’s little incentive to govern. Most incumbents only risk re-election by getting “primaried” by a more extreme member of their party, so they resist compromise and instead cater to that more extreme base — leaving the majority no avenue to hold them accountable. That’s one reason why Colorado’s most pressing issues languish unaddressed, session after session. Rep. Sirota is no exception: she was effectively elected by just 14% of active registered voters in her district in 2018 and has not faced a competitive election since.

The status quo obviously doesn’t work for voters, but it works just fine for the politicians and party in power. That is why they are desperate to keep the old system in place.

There’s a better way. In 2020, Alaska voters adopted the country’s first “Final Four” election. Instead of voters having to pick a Democratic or Republican primary ballot, all voters get the same ballot and can vote for any candidate in every race. The top-four finishers, regardless of party, advance to the general election. Voters then have an option of ranking them according to preference. If no candidate wins over 50% of first-choice votes, an instant runoff determines a majority winner.

The results of Alaska’s first “Final Four” election showed promise. There was a 58% increase in the number of voters casting ballots in competitive elections not predetermined by party affiliation alone. The candidates elected statewide under the new system demonstrated the reform’s party-neutral effect: a conservative Republican governor, moderate Republican senator, and moderate Democratic representative. And in the state Legislature, bipartisan governing majorities emerged in both the house and senate, focused on putting people over party.

Colorado Voters First introduced an initiative to adopt this same reform in Colorado this year. First, party bosses sued to keep it off the ballot. They lost in the Colorado Supreme Court. Ready for that likely outcome, they resorted to jamming through an amendment to neuter the reform if voters adopt it.

Some opponents claim the reform is untested and first needs extensive adoption at the local level before statewide implementation, as the amendment would require –– supposedly to protect voters. But in Alaska, a whopping 99.9% of ballots were cast accurately despite the fact that 86% of the state’s communities cannot be reached by road. More than 20% of the state’s population is Alaska Native, so ballots were also printed in over 10 languages. Do Colorado politicians really believe their own voters are somehow less capable?

We know what’s going on here. Seeing election reform gain steam nationally, several state Legislatures have passed bills to prevent its expansion. By signing those bills, governors capitulated to short-sighted partisan pressure and failed to do the right thing for voters and our democracy. Colorado’s political establishment just gave voters another big reason to support election reform. Ultimately, the voters will prevail.