Blue wave coming? Colorado's unaffiliated voters lean toward Democrat primary ballots early on

Posted at 2:10 PM, Apr 30, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-30 21:31:15-04

DENVER – While elections experts and hopeful Democrats have been talking about prospects of a “blue wave” in this year’s upcoming elections, statistics for unaffiliated voters aiming to vote in Colorado primaries for the first time ever could provide some of the first insight into whether or not those hopes are overblown.

As of Monday, nearly 35,000 unaffiliated Colorado voters had selected a ballot – and they are so far leaning toward the Democrats, according to figures from the secretary of state’s office.

Of those voters, 55.2 percent had selected a Democratic primary ballot, while 38.1 percent picked a Republican ballot. The roughly 6.7 percent of other ballots selected were for third parties, according to the secretary of state’s office.

Unaffiliated voters make up the largest percentage of Colorado’s electorate, with about 1.1 million active registered voters as of April 1, compared to 1.01 million Democrats and 1 million Republicans.

They are also allowed to vote in the state’s primaries this year for the first time, but have to select either a Democrat, Republican or third-party ballot to vote. They cannot select candidates from multiple parties.

Those voters have to request which ballot they would like to vote on before the primary ballots are mailed out the first week of June. If they don’t pick one before then, they will receive both ballots, but will only be able to use one.

While Colorado politicians have long sought to win over unaffiliated voters in general and midterm elections, the group’s ability to vote in the primaries adds a new level to inter-party politics, as candidates will have to decide what sort of issues unaffiliated voters are looking at when looking within one certain party. After the primaries, they will not be bound to vote for a certain party in November's election.

The talks of a “blue wave” have mounted over the past year, as Democrats have seen victories in several states and congressional districts long held by Republicans – districts in which Donald Trump far outperformed Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election, in some cases by more than 20 percentage points.

Clinton defeated Trump by 5 percentage points (around 136,000 votes) in Colorado that year.

Rep. Mike Coffman, a five-term Republican from Aurora who represents the 6th congressional district, figures to have the toughest challenge. He won re-election in 2016 by an 8.3-percent margin, and one of the Democrats hoping to face Coffman in the midterms, Jason Crow, has matched Coffman in fundraising over the past two quarters.

But Coffman’s campaign has repeatedly pointed out that Coffman faced similar tough challenges in years prior and came out victorious.

Rep. Scott Tipton, a Republican from Colorado’s 3rd congressional district, won the 2016 election by 14.3 percent, also is within the 20-point swing margin seen in some other districts’ special elections over the past year.

The unaffiliated vote is also likely to prove important in local races, as Democrats try and re-take hold of the state Senate, where Republicans currently hold 18 seats, compared to the Democrats’ 16 and the one unaffiliated senator. There are 17 seats up for election in the Senate this year, according to Ballotpedia.

Colorado Democratic Party Chair Morgan Carroll said the early numbers showed a trend toward voters gravitating toward her party.

"Unaffiliated voters are more interested in what Democrats have to offer -- better health care, better roads, better gun safety and more funding for education -- and they're turned off by the right-wing agenda being peddled by Trump and Stapleton," she told Denver7.

The primaries are set for June 26. Unaffiliated voters looking to pick a ballot can click here to do so. The secretary of state's office has launched a campaign to educate unaffiliated voters about the new changes.