With so many uncontested state races, what's the point of voting in the Colorado primaries?

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Posted at 5:42 PM, Jun 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-16 20:55:21-04

DENVER — Colorado voters getting their primary ballots in the mail may notice there are a lot of uncontested races this time around.

A Denver7 ballot analysis found that of the 103 state and federal seats up for election, there are only 12 that feature more than one Democratic candidate. Republicans have twice as many contested races, at 26.

Meanwhile, there are three races where no Democratic candidate is running at all and two races without a single Republican candidate. Those elections are largely considered safe seats for the opposite party.

Incumbents are also less likely this time around to face a primary challenger. University of Denver assistant political science professor Sara Chatfield says non-contested races are not new or necessarily surprising, particularly for incumbents.

“Having an incumbent in office, there's an obvious sort of person to rally around as long as that person hasn't been mired in scandal or had some sort of problems that's made them unpopular,” Chatfield said.

For races where there is no incumbent or obvious choice, Chatfield says it’s much more likely to face multiple primary challengers since newcomers could be on more balanced footing with one another.

She also points out that running a political race takes a lot of time, effort and money, so it might not be worth it to some would-be candidates if the race is all but a foregone conclusion.

So, Chatfield doesn’t worry as much about uncontested primary races as she does uncontested general election races.

“I personally would be much more concerned if you didn't have a choice in the general election. If you had someone who was totally uncontested all the way through, no primary challenge or no general election challenger, then voters had no options throughout the whole process,” she said.

There are three state candidates that will not face either a primary or a general election challenger: Republican Byron Pelton, Democratic Rep. Jennifer Bacon and Democratic Sen. Julie Gonzales.

If there are so many uncontested races, what’s the point of voting in the primary? For Chatfield, the reasons are twofold. First, there are some races that are contested that are important for people to decide. Second, it keeps the state election system up-to-date with your voter status.

“The elections folks are getting your most recent signatures. So, when it comes time to vote in November, they'll have that signature on file to have a more recent thing to compare it to,” she said.

Over at the Denver Election headquarters, running an election is not cheap: it costs the county $309,000 for the ballots themselves, $70,000 for the envelopes, $123,000 for the voter instructions and ballot inserts and $74,000 for the postage.

Even if there are no contested races, clerk and recorder Paul López says they are required to print and mail out the ballots to voters unless the political party cancels its primary. Even with the cost, López says it’s worth printing the ballots.

“Democracy does not have a price tag. That's something that is a cornerstone of our country, it's a cornerstone of what we do,” López said.

So how many votes does it take for a candidate to move from the primary to the general election? One.

“Each candidate in order to advance to the general must at least have one vote,” López said.

If there are uncontested races where a voter doesn’t feel comfortable voting for the candidate, you can leave the bubble empty without affecting your ballot.

It’s up to the voters to determine whether they want to vote for all or only a couple of the candidates on their ballots.

For contested races, though, López encourages voters to participate, saying if you don’t vote, “That means that you're just handing it off to somebody else to make that decision for you.”