DENVER — Ballots for the June 28 primary will begin being sent out to voters this week. For the third time, unaffiliated voters will be allowed to participate in party primaries after Proposition 108 was approved in 2016.
Unaffiliated voters make up the largest voting bloc in the state. According to numbers from the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office, of the 3,725,146 voters as of May, there are:
— 1,068,827 Democratic voters in the state or 29% of the overall vote
— 956,904 Republican voters in the state or 26% of the overall vote
— 1,699,415 unaffiliated voters in the state or 45.6% of the vote
In 2020, roughly 1.6 million people voted in the primary. Of them, about one in four voters were unaffiliated. They made up around 38% of the ballot case in the Democratic primary and 25% of the votes cast in the Republican race. This time around, though, that may change.
“We have several contested races on the Republican side, very few, if any, on the Democratic side. So, I think the expectation is that they will more likely vote in the Republican primary,” said Republican strategist Ryan Lynch.
On the Republican primary ballot, some of the big races include:
— U.S. Senate: Ron Hanks and Joe O’Dea are running
— 3rd Congressional District: Don Corum is challenging U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert
— 4th Congressional District: Robert Lewis is challenging U.S. Rep. Ken Buck
— 5th Congressional District: Dave Williams, Andrew Heaton, and Rebecca Keltie are challenging U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn
— 7th Congressional District: Erik Aadland, Laurel Imer, and Tim Reichert are running
— 8th Congressional District: Lori Saine, Jan Kulmann, Barbara Kirkmeyer, and Tyler Allcorn are running
— Governor’s race: Greg Lopez and Heidi Ganahl are running
— Secretary of State: Tina Peters, Mike O’Donnell, and Pam Anderson are running
“Unaffiliated voters are the largest voting bloc in the state. They do have the ability to swing a close contested primary. So, if you are a candidate in a primary, you ignore unaffiliated voters at your own peril,” Lynch said.
The participation of unaffiliated voters could mean that more moderate candidates win primary races. It could also cause candidates to tailor their message to a broader audience.
For Ryan Winger, the director of data analysis for Magellan Strategies, having unaffiliated voters participate could bring more electable candidates to the forefront.
“The (Republican) party here in Colorado doesn't have the best track record of nominating quote-unquote, the most electable candidate in November,” Winger said. “Choosing more candidates who are closer to right of center ultimately might result in more electable candidates.”
However, Democratic political consultant Jason Bane says the ability of unaffiliated voters to influence primaries may be limited to certain races. For that, he points to the example of U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn who won his first primary by about 1,000 votes.
“On the statewide side, if you look back at 2018, the Republican candidate Walker Stapleton won his primary by about 90,000 votes. That's a bit too much, I think, for unaffiliated voters to make a difference,” Bane said.
Still, Bane believes some unaffiliated voters could choose to participate in the Republican primary to vote against certain candidates, particularly those who question the results of the 2020 election.
“I mean, these are very extreme positions and so if you're concerned about these people, your best bet might be to get involved in a primary election,” he said.
Over the past year, there have been two attempts by some within the Republican party to bar unaffiliated voters from participating. They argue that people who aren’t affiliated with the party shouldn’t be picking their candidates.
In September 2021, Republicans a the central committee soundly rejected a vote to opt the party out of the state’s primaries in favor of a caucus system instead. A lawsuit was then introduced to challenge Proposition 108, however, in April a federal judge dismissed it.
Lynch sees unaffiliated voter participation as a good thing, saying it could benefit both Republicans and Democrats.
“I think being able to produce a message that resonates with more voters is going to be a net positive for both parties. The only real negative that I can think of is that, you know, you're going to have to spend more money to win a primary,” Lynch said.
Unaffiliated voters will be sent both Republican and Democratic ballots. They can only return one. If both are returned, both will be rejected. The primary is June 28.