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Colorado voters may get to change how elections are conducted in the state

Proposed ballot initiative would create top-four open primary and ranked-choice voting in general elections
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Posted at 6:37 PM, Jun 10, 2024

DENVER — This fall, Colorado voters may get to decide whether to change how elections work in the state.

A proposed initiative would create an open primary system and ranked-choice voting for general elections. It would apply to elections for state and congressional offices.

Supporters kicked off their signature-gathering campaign on Monday. They hope to collect enough signatures to get the initiative on November’s ballot.

Like a growing number of voters, Steve Yurash felt he no longer had a voice in the major two-party system.

"A majority of Americans feel our democracy is in crisis,” Yurash said.

Last year, he started his own minor political party, the Colorado Center Party.

"Because the two major parties aren't representing the majority of voters in the middle,” Yurash said.

This year, he’s running for State House District 52 in the southern part of Fort Collins.

He’s also lending his support to a ballot initiative led by businessman and political activist Kent Thiry.

It would require all candidates, regardless of party, to run in a single primary.

The top four finishers would advance to the general election, in which voters would choose the winner using ranked-choice voting.

With ranked-choice voting, voters rank the candidates by preference, according to Fair Vote, a nationwide nonpartisan organization pushing for ranked-choice voting.

A candidate needs a majority, 50% of the vote, to be declared the winner. If no candidate receives that in the first round, the candidate with the lowest total is eliminated. Voters who supported that candidate would still have their votes counted, it would just go to their second choice. This process continues until someone gets 50% of the vote.

Amber McReynolds, a former elections official, said changing Colorado’s primary system, in particular, would empower voters by giving them more choices and lead to better representation.

"I think this provides a more fair system, a more accessible system,” said McReynolds. “I think it actually strengthens the primary, and it will likely increase participation."

On Monday, supporters of the initiative kicked off their signature gathering campaign.

They must collect about 124,000 signatures by August to qualify for November’s ballot.

Colorado voters may get to change how elections are conducted in the state

If the initiative makes November’s ballot and is approved by voters, it won’t be implemented as soon as originally thought.

"I really think this ballot measure is a solution in search of a problem,” said State Rep. Emily Sirota. "We have incredible election systems here in the state of Colorado. I don’t see the need to make these changes.”

Sirota was able to attach an amendment to an election bill that would require ranked-choice voting elections to be run in several different communities before it could be done at the state level.

It also requires the Secretary of State to audit those elections.

The ballot initiative calls for the implementation to start in 2026, but the new law would delay the implementation of ranked-choice voting by several years.

Sirota said the delay would be necessary to give voters time to understand a new process and to ensure they didn’t make mistakes that would disenfranchise their votes.

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"It’s really a very reasonable thing to do,” said Sirota.

She said she introduced the amendment after consulting with the county clerks association.

Those who support election reform believe Sirota's amendment is a way for lawmakers to try to block the will of the voters, should the initiative be approved.

“We should let voters decide how they feel about this before we start limiting how the initiative would be implemented,” said McReynolds.

Regardless, supporters of the ballot initiative are moving forward.

They said they believe the top-four open primary system that would be created is more important than ranked-choice voting anyway.

“It puts in front of the voters all the options that they have and then they get to decide. And that to me, really is important in empowering voters with options and choices in our elections,” said McReynolds.

A few communities in Colorado already approved ranked-choice voting, including Boulder, which used ranked-choice voting to select its mayor last year.

In 2022, voters in Fort Collins also approved ranked choice voting for its city elections, starting in 2025.


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