October 28, 2016
It’s Oct. 28. Election Day is just a shade over a week away and to paraphrase President Gerald Ford, our long national nightmare is almost over.
This election has been a long and disorienting process and with all the focus on Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that there are plenty of other issues to vote on, including Colorado’s ballot measure Proposition 108.
If approved by the voters of Colorado Proposition 108 will allow unaffiliated voters, those without a declared political party affiliation, to vote in the State’s primary elections for political parties. Unaffiliated voters would vote in primaries through a combined ballot showing each of the candidates from each political party.
Under Prop 108 unaffiliated voters would be allowed to cast only a single primary vote for a given race and not a primary vote in each party’s primary system. If any voter selects more than one candidate for a given race their ballot will not be counted.
As it stands right now Colorado has a closed primary system, meaning voters must declare a party affiliation to be eligible to vote in a given party’s primary. Currently voters in Colorado can affiliate with a party on Election Day in order to vote in that party’s primary.
The Colorado Blue Book, an informational booklet on ballot measures produced by the State of Colorado and provided to voters explains that even if Prop 108 is passed the State’s major political parties can still get around having unaffiliated voters select their candidates by opting out. “The measure allows political parties, which are private organizations, to opt out of holding a primary election that is open to unaffiliated voters,” states the Blue Book. “Instead, they may choose to nominate candidates in an assembly or convention that is limited to voters affiliated with that party. The decision to opt out of holding a primary election must be made by the party’s state central committee by a three-fourths majority vote.”
Under the current laws in the State of Colorado political parties must reach a specific voter threshold level to qualify for the designation of “major party”. In Colorado only the Democratic and Republican Parties qualify. Under Prop 108 minor parties, all other political parties besides Republican and Democrat, which participate in a primary election would be included on a combined ballot sent to unaffiliated voters unless otherwise requested. Minor parties can, at the request of the party, be excluded from the combined primary ballot.
Proposition 108 is very similar to the other 2016 ballot measure regarding primary voting, Proposition 107, but differs in that Prop 107 pertains specifically to Presidential Primaries whereas Prop 108 pertains to non-presidential political party primaries.
Non-presidential primaries in Colorado are held every two-years on the last Tuesday in June on even numbered years. Non-presidential primaries are administered by County Clerks throughout the State at a cost of roughly $5-million-dollars annually.
According to the Colorado Blue Book Prop 108 would have a financial impact on the State. If Prop 108 is approved there will be an upfront one-time cost of $160,000 to the State with costs split evenly between the 2016-2017 and the 2017-2018 budget years. “This is a one-time cost for the Secretary of State’s Office to make information technology system modifications to the statewide voter database and other voting systems.”
Additionally Prop 108 would impact local governments. “Proposition 108 increases local government spending by counties by $750,000 every two years by requiring that ballots be mailed to unaffiliated voters and eliminating a required notification currently sent to unaffiliated voters” the Blue Book states.
The Blue Book outlines that the cost estimates for Counties are based on the assumption that political parties would continue to nominate candidates through the primary process and not opt out of Prop 108. If all political parties were to opt out of the regulations of Prop 108 Counties could end up seeing savings of up to $5 million every two years.
The Colorado Blue Book outlines some arguments for and against Prop 108.
Those who support Prop 108 claim the measure gives unaffiliated voters, who are taxpayers, the opportunity to vote in publically financed primary elections. Unaffiliated voters account for more than one-third of all registered voters in Colorado and Prop 108 gives them a say in selecting the candidates they will have to vote on in a general election.
Additionally proponents of Prop 108 claim the measure may, “result in candidates who better represent all Coloradans”. Supporters of the measure point out voter participation in primaries is typically relatively low and candidates who are nominated through a primary often appeal to a comparatively small subset of voters within any given party’s most active membership.
Opponents of Prop 108 argue the use of a combined ballot under the auspices of Prop 108 for unaffiliated voters will, “likely result in about 7 percent of unaffiliated voter ballots not being counted, which could change election winners, and would raise costs for taxpayers.” Opponents also claim implementation of a separate combined ballot for unaffiliated voters can create administrative and financial burdens for counties, especially smaller or rural counties.
Additionally opponents of Prop 108 point out the State currently allows unaffiliated voters, who wish to vote in a political party’s primary, to engage in the process by designating a party affiliation, which can be done up to and including election day. The Arguments Against section of the Blue Book states, “Political parties are membership organizations that have the right to select their own candidates without influence from people who choose not to affiliate with the party.”