Who’s Afraid of All-Mail Ballots? Not The GOP Anymore!

Eli Stokols of FOX 31 writes for Politico Magazine about one very unexpected development of this week's election in Colorado: how the GOP appears to have utilized the state's new all-mail ballot system, a reform they staunchly opposed in the legislature last year, to considerable success:

What has been viewed as a partisan attempt by Democrats to further capitalize on the state’s shifting demographics, making it easier for low-propensity voters to cast ballots, appears to have backfired. An early read of Colorado’s returns shows a much older electorate than anyone had predicted: roughly 60 percent of Colorado voters were over the age of 50. Thus, it appears that many who took advantage of the mail-in option were older voters who tended Republican. Turnout, despite the best efforts of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s vaunted Bannock Street Project and other turnout efforts by other progressive groups, was barely above 2010 levels. Gardner won easily and Beauprez took Hickenlooper, who finally claimed victory Wednesday morning, to extra innings because Democrats were surprisingly hoisted on their own petard of election reform.

While so many people are concerned about Republican efforts to roll back voter rights in other states with controversial voter ID laws, limits on absentee balloting and other measures, Democrats—by expanding voting rights in Colorado—paid the price in a state they might otherwise have won.

In the final days of the campaign, Udall’s team saw a narrow path to a late Election Night victory if they could get the overall Republican voter registration advantage below 6 percent and win big with unaffiliated voters. In the end, they did narrow the GOP edge to 5.4 percent, less than the 6 percent margin Sen. Michael Bennet overcame in 2010. But they fell well short of Bennet’s double-digit margins with unaffiliated voters. That’s little surprise given Gardner’s strength as a candidate—he simply never seemed as scary to women or Hispanic voters as Udall’s campaign said he was—and the fundamentals of the 2014 cycle.

In the Denver Post's related story today, DU professor Seth Masket is less certain mail ballots boosted the GOP, but it's pretty evident they did not help Democrats close the gap in a midterm election already stacked against them:

"It's hard to say what the overall lesson for turnout is" from the universal mail-ballot law, said Seth Masket, chairman of the University of Denver's Department of Political Science. "But what happened in Colorado doesn't look too different from what happened in an awful lot of other states, in that you saw some Republicans who outperformed the polling, and Democrats took losses (nearly) across the board."

Masket long had been skeptical that the 2013 law passed by Colorado Democrats — requiring the sending of a ballot to every registered voter with a verifiable address — would boost Democrats' prospects in a non-presidential election.

The legislation that resulted in mail ballots being sent to every registered voters in Colorado this year, House Bill 13-1303, was hotly opposed by Republicans in the legislature in Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler. Right-leaning "vote watchdogs" like eccentric Aspen millionaire Marilyn Marks warned that mail ballots would allow Democrats to swamp the election with fraud. Now Secretary of State-elect Wayne Williams…well, he didn't actually help scare people about this law much, it's true, though he did try. The law attracted conservative attention again after "gotcha" artist James O'Keefe led a couple of low-level GOTV staffers into endorsing his theory about how mail ballot fraud might work (even though what he proposed would never work).

Regardless, with the election now over and the GOP riding high, Republicans are singing a very different tune about Colorado's mail ballots:

"With mail ballots, the presumption has been it's better for Democrats and liberal interest groups," said Josh Penry, a Republican consultant to the Coffman campaign. "That doesn't have to be the case. The advantage goes to who's best-funded and -organized."

In hindsight, the results make it pretty clear that that the hysteria over House Bill 13-1303 was as unfounded as the Republican county clerks who helped write it always said. And if you're not convinced that Republicans were not fully embracing House Bill 1303 by Election Day, here's Jon Caldara of the Independence Institute–one of the most controversial opponents of the new election laws–endorsing same-day voter registration:

Bottom line: Colorado's experiment with modernized, easily accessible voting in 2014 strongly argues against the kinds of voting restrictions traditionally favored by Republicans. Where in many states Republican-controlled legislatures have clamped down on voting methods, accessibility, and documentation, Colorado took the 180-degree opposition approach of making it as easy to vote as possible while preserving basic safeguards.

And apparently, that didn't hurt the GOP at all. While that one-time result may disappoint some partisan Democrats, we are obliged to consider it a positive development for small-d democracy.

Voter Turnout Update

ELECTION DAY UPDATE: Voter turnout as of 4:00 pm is 1,799,675. Colorado should blow right past 2010 turnout.

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Here are the most recent voter turnout numbers for the largest counties in Colorado. Remember, these numbers were provided by the Colorado Secretary of State this morning, and do not take into account anything that has already happened today:

TOTAL STATEWIDE VOTES
2010: 1,821,028
2012: 2,596,173
2014: 1,607,220 (NOT including Election Day)

Voter turnout prior to Election Day

 

Answer My Voting Questions!!!

Need to know where to drop your ballot? Wanna check your registration? Need some "A's" for your "FAQs?"

Click below to learn more, and remember this: It's too late to mail your ballot. You must return ballots to a polling place to designated drop-off area.

JVC

ELECTION EVE UPDATE: Colorado Voter Turnout

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 12.58.02 PM

UPDATE: A final memo from Mark Udall's campaign manager Adam Dunstone, who worked the 2010 Michael Bennet campaign, projects confidence as Democrats continue to chip away at the GOP's early ballot-return lead:

The biggest difference between this year and Sen. Bennet’s race is that Colorado now mails ballots to every registered voter in the state. This will likely increase turnout from 1.8 million to over 2 million — good news for us.

With 1.4 million ballots already processed, that means an estimated 600,000 (at the very least) are still making their way through the mail or have not yet been placed in a ballot drop box. That’s at least 1/3 of the vote that hasn’t yet come in, and as we’ve seen over the past four years, the late vote overwhelmingly benefits Democrats. 

In Colorado’s only other all mail-in ballot election, 2013, more than 39% of the votes came in the final two days of balloting. Those two days saw the disparity between Republican and Democratic votes decrease by more than 2.5 points. We expect a similar proportion of votes to be counted on Monday and Tuesday…

According to our modeling, Latinos already make up the same share of the electorate that they did in 2010 — and their percentage of the electorate will continue to grow. When all is said and done, Latinos will make up an even larger share of the electorate than they did in 2010.

23 percent of the Democrats who have voted thus far did not vote in 2010, including 17 percent who voted in 2012 but not 2010. These are your quintessential drop-off voters who traditionally don’t vote in midterm elections. This is a key number to keep an eye on, and 23% is great news for us.

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Alright, Polsters, it's time to dust off those cliches. We're going down to the wire, where we wait for the fat lady to sing about counting your chicks, blah, blah, blah.

Here's the latest update on voter turnout figures. The big question, of course, revolves around final turnout numbers. If turnout is closer to 2010, then counties such as Douglas, El Paso, and Weld, respectively, are getting close to their voter ceiling. But if turnout moves closer to 2012 numbers, then the Big Three of Arapahoe, Denver, and Jefferson counties aren't even halfway home.

Turnout in Colorado election eve

 

Vote Fraud: The Great Nothingburger of 2014

James OKeefe, wearing a Mark Udall sticker.

James O’Keefe, wearing his Mark Udall sticker.

As the Denver Post's Joey Bunch reports:

This campaign season, Colorado's new mail-ballot voter law has drawn the national sideshow attention of cable news and opinion, AM radio and even a sting by conservative provocateur James O'Keefe — all focused on the notion that Tuesday's outcome could be tainted.

But perception hasn't been reality, according to election officials on both sides of the deep political divide who report only a routine percentage of challenged signatures, undeliverable ballots and reports of alleged shenanigans.

Mesa County Clerk Sheila Reiner said the lack of actual trouble is largely because voting by mail is nothing new. It's been an option for Colorado voters since 1992. And in the 2012 general election, 73 percent of Coloradans cast mail ballots.

"What's different is we have a party that's made allegations of fraud part of its platform," Reiner, a Republican who is president of the Colorado County Clerks Association, said of some members of her party. [Pols emphasis]

In addition to the increased overall turnout in this midterm, the apparent success of House Bill 13-1303 is a major blow to perennial Republican allegations of "massive voter fraud" either being planned or perpetrated by Democrats in this state. Ginning up voter fraud fears outside Colorado was the purpose of right-wing provocateur James O'Keefe's "sting" of two low-level third party organization GOTV groups in October.

O'Keefe's video of himself leading a couple of field hands into agreeing with his hamfisted plot to commit voter fraud–a plot that would fail due to verification procedures in place in every county clerk's office–made the rounds within the national right-wing mediasphere, but the story never caught on here in Colorado or with national mainstream media. The reason is simple, as Bunch continues–it's not happening.

[C]lerks note that each ballot is screened to make sure the signatures match voter registration records. And so far the numbers of signatures that have been flagged by election judges as incorrect matches are roughly the same as they were in the 2012 general election in El Paso, Denver, Mesa and Pueblo counties checked by The Denver Post on Friday…

El Paso County's clerk and recorder, Wayne Williams, the Republican nominee for secretary of state, appeared on the Fox News Channel on Tuesday night to talk about his concerns that a ballot in every household, regardless of what the voter prefers, would open the way for undue influence by others in the home.

"We haven't seen any significant issues in this county," he said Friday. [Pols emphasis]

Even outgoing Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler, who led the fact-challenged assault of House Bill 13-1303 and who has alleged widespread voter fraud throughout his term in office without supporting evidence, has been forced to acknowledge the lack of actual problems with the law as it's been implemented–other than complaining about the "Herculean effort" his office made to develop the statewide electronic pollbook, another key fraud prevention check that appears to be working fine.

This is worth keeping in mind, given the shift in ballot returns that began yesterday to favor Democrats. There is a well-established narrative today that Republican victory is "inevitable," even as the polls tighten and the ballot returns turn against them in the final days. If Democrats emerge victorious, as happened in 2010 and 2012 under very similar conditions, we expect the cries of "vote fraud" to become quite loud and obnoxious. Consumers of conservative media have likely heard about O'Keefe's little sting, but will never read this story or the others that disprove him.

If Democrats do prevail, some conspiracist diehards will never be convinced it wasn't fraud. But should it happen this way as it has before, try to explain this stuff to the reasonable people in your life.

Ballot Return Momentum Swinging–Right Now, Right On Cue

votebutton

FOX 31's Eli Stokols has smart analysis up today about what's really going on with ballot returns in Colorado:

Much is being made of the Republicans’ voter registration advantage in Colorado’s early voting, which inched from 104,000 Saturday to 106,000 on Sunday, seemingly a sign of yet another contested U.S. Senate battle tilting toward Republicans.

But election observers from Denver to Washington, DC would be wise to pay attention to another figure: that voter registration margin as a percentage of the overall vote.

As more votes come in, what was a 10-point GOP edge last week has slipped a little bit with each new early voting report from the Secretary of State, down to 9.2 percent Thursday, 9 percent Friday, 8.6 percent Saturday and now 7.9 percent Sunday.

As we’ve seen over several election cycles in Colorado, the early voter registration numbers can be deceiving; and the early Election Night returns often reflect few of the ballots cast over the final days of the race, offering little indication of how a race will end.

The last few elections in Colorado have given us a primer on what to expect this year, which is why Democrats have not seemed as nervous as one might expect as the GOP posted an early lead: Republicans reliably get their mail ballots returned promptly, which makes their numbers look good early. But as we approach Election Day, the pattern switches, and Democrats rapidly close the GOP's lead. By Election Night?

Well, based on 2012 and 2010, we know what's likely to happen on Election Night. Democrats outperform the public polls, and win on the strength of their late-inning ground game. And as the New York Times' Nate Cohn reports, that's exactly what's happening–right before our eyes once again.

Registered Democrats outnumbered registered Republicans by three points over 80,000 received ballots on Saturday. It was the first time that Democrats outpaced Republicans, and it was enough to narrow the Republican advantage to eight points, 40 to 32…

Democratic gains were underpinned by a continuation of the favorable demographic trends that had allowed them to whittle away at the G.O.P.'s percent margin over the last week. Voters under age 45 bumped up to 31 percent of returns.

Voters who didn’t participate in 2010 reached 33 percent of Saturday’s tallies, also a first.

The margin for Democrats to overcome this year is greater these the two previous general elections, but the impact of 100% mail balloting for every registered voter has yet to be fully understood in the context of those prior results. Likewise with same-day voter registration, though that seems very likely to work against Republicans in the same way mail ballots work for the GOP in early returns. The bottom line is that anyone telling you that this election "is over" by any stretch is misleading you for a very specific purpose.

Not only is this election far from over, the same dynamics that brought Democrats victory here in prior years are taking shape as we write this.

Tuesday night, and not a moment before, we'll know if it was enough.

Put the Stamps Away and Drop Off Your Ballot

Remember, folks, that ballots must arrive at the county clerk's office prior to 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday; the postmarked date is irrelevant in this case.

To find your ballot drop-off location, go to JustVoteColorado.org.

For Denver voters, ProgressNow has developed a cool text message system that allows voters to find the nearest 24-hour ballot drop location. To use this free service, Denver voters can text DROPOFF to 30644.

dropoff

 

Did Democrats or Republicans Guess Wrong on Spanish-Language TV?

SEIU Colorado TV ad

Somebody guessed wrong on Spanish-language television buys in Colorado. Was it Democrats…or Republicans?

 

We haven't seen the hard numbers on this yet, but as it has been explained to us, 2014 has seen considerably more money spent on Spanish-language media buys than any other mid-term election (anecdotally, of course, it makes perfect sense). In fact, spending on Spanish-language media is at a level comparable to the 2012 Presidential election. That spending has not been equal among Democrats and Republicans, however, and on Tuesday evening we will have a pretty good idea of which Party made the wrong decision. Democrats have spent much more money on Spanish-language television than Republicans; media buys for Democratic Sen. Mark Udall alone have dominated the airwaves on Univision in Colorado.

Republican Senate candidate Cory Gardner launched his first Spanish-language TV ad in Colorado today, the same day in which the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) was promoting another new Spanish-language ad in a media campaign that has been underway for months (check out the SEIU press release from Oct. 7 after the jump). The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has run a Spanish-language TV ad with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush endorsing Gardner, but the Gardner campaign itself had not ventured into the medium until today. Coincidentally, NBC News reports on the attraction for politicos of Spanish-language media around the country:

That means in places like Colorado, there are many more Spanish-language ads than in previous elections, the sort of “wall-to-wall coverage” that non-Latino white voters have long been accustomed to seeing in elections, Chambers said. On top of that, Hispanic advocacy and other groups are doing field work, knocking on doors to register and turn out Latino voters and making sure those who can get their ballots mailed in…

…An ad titled “Tu Poder” running in Colorado – paid for by People for the American Way and NexGen Climate and done by Chambers – hits several themes at once to reach Latinos. It shows a mailbox to explain the new Colorado voting law in which every registered voter gets a mail-in ballot that has to be mailed back by Oct. 31 and it also touches on issues of the environment and health.

The ad for Colorado’s Democratic Sen. Mark Udall opens with several official ballot packets landing on a table and a narrator saying “Este es tu poder. (This is your power.)" That line is repeated later and followed by “úselo (use it.)”

The ad is part of a multiyear effort People for the American Way (PFAW) designed to reach Latino voters. Randy Borntrager, political director of the liberal group, said in 2014 Latinos “could be kingmaker” in several of the close 10 Senate races.

What's so fascinating about this disparity with Spanish-language media buys is that it offers a unique opportunity to examine different strategies in play. Just like any other big-money industry, politics is a copycat business. Everybody does TV and mail. Everybody does online advertising. Everybody has some sort of field campaign. But in this particular case, only one Party can be correct about their decision on how to allocate money for Spanish-language media (and TV specifically).

The relative importance of Spanish-language media to each Party is pretty clear in 2014, but by 2016 lessons will have been learned and cats copied.

If the Latino vote in Colorado does prove to be the final arbiter in many of these races, we can guess which side will be doing the copying in two years.

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Voter Turnout Comparisons: 2010, 2012, and 2014

Today the Secretary of State's office released another update of voter turnout figures for 2014. To put those numbers in perspective, we broke down the final numbers from 2010 and 2012 in the most populous Colorado counties.

If you're looking for a one-sentence takeaway, it's that we're still a long way from the finish line.

Colorado voter turnout

In Which Wayne Williams Makes a Complete Fool of Himself

WEDNESDAY UPDATE: Broadcasting last night from Denver, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow featured GOP Secretary of State candidate Wayne Williams' interview on the FOX News Channel–hilariously, devastatingly. This is a must-watch clip of video:

We could not do a better job summing up the absurdity.

The only thing we have to add is this: Wayne Williams leads in most polls in the race to be Colorado's next Secretary of State. For Democrats, that is where the joke stops being funny. With less than a week remaining until the election, how would you capitalize on this nationally televised disaster if you were Williams' opponent? Original post follows.

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Pennies for Your Thoughts: El Paso County Ballots Scrap Signature Cover

Republican Wayne Williams is the current Clerk and Recorder in El Paso County, which puts him in charge of elections and voting in one of the largest counties in Colorado. Williams is also running for Secretary of State to replace Scott Gessler, and if his decisions in El Paso County are any indication, Williams' approach to mail ballots should make you nervous.

All mail ballots must be signed on the back of the envelope in order to be counted as official votes, and El Paso County is no exception to that rule. But El Paso County is perhaps the only large county in Colorado to have eliminated the voter signature cover on the envelope, which allows anyone who handles the envelope to see whose ballot is in their hands (provided they can read the signature). You can see the El Paso County ballot and envelope in the image below; after the jump is a comparison ballot/envelope from Denver, with the signature cover intact.

From what we understand, Williams instructed his office to eliminate the tab that covers the signature on the envelope as a cost-cutting measure. We can't imagine this decision actually saved a lot of money, but even if it did, was it really worth the savings if it jeopardized the secrecy of mail ballots in El Paso County?

El Paso County Ballot

El Paso County mail ballot sans signature cover.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Absentee Treasurer

Sen. Gail Schwartz

Sen. Gail Schwartz

(Promoted by Colorado Pols. Check out Your Choice Colorado for more on the statewide downballot races.)

For the past eight years, I have served in the Colorado State Senate. I have been privileged to work with Republicans and Democrats, two Governors and fellow legislators, and urban and rural citizens to develop Colorado solutions to issues facing our state.

As Chair of the legislative Capital Development Committee, I worked on many pieces of legislation to fund our state’s capital projects. Two bills in particular addressed the critical capital needs of education. With support of former Treasurer Kennedy, we created the BEST program which invested over $1B in rural schools; and secondly, using oil and gas revenues, we funded $230M for construction on college campuses. Neither program increased state taxes.

Treasurer Stapleton  has not pursued similar opportunities for education or for our rural communities, and said “no” when invited to help develop specific programs to invest in rural infrastructure.

Now, public records from the Treasurer’s calendar and key code records, reveal that he is only in his office about 11 days per month. I have had numerous meetings in the treasure's office during each of the last several years, only to find his personal office was not only empty, but dark.

The Treasurer is responsible, more than any other position in the state, for managing and accounting for the citizen's tax dollars. A full-time Treasurer would mean that we could look at creative, “out-of-the-box” ways to invest in rural Colorado and save taxpayers money, beginning with updating and upgrading our infrastructure by using public/private partnerships.

If Colorado had a Treasurer who was actually working in the Capitol, who actually worked with the State Legislature, and who spent time thinking about our whole State, Colorado would be much better served.

Coloradans deserve a full-time Treasurer who will show up for work, look out for our entire state, and take on our state’s fiscal challenges. Colorado would be better off with the energy and commitment of Betsy Markey. It’s time to turn the lights back on in the Colorado's Treasurer's office!