Yes Virginia, Proposition 108 is a Total Clusterfuck

Small print: no really, please, don’t.

As the Denver Post’s Jesse Paul reports, a potential electoral disaster is unfolding before our eyes as the disruptive unintended consequences of 2016’s ill-conceived Proposition 108 begin to become apparent–threatening to cloud the outcome of partisan primary elections that unaffiliated voters are voting in for the first time ever.

The reason? No matter how many times you explain the rules when you’re doing something extremely counterintuitive like sending a voter two ballots, though they can only return one: hundreds of people are returning both! And, as we’ll explain, that causes a rift in the spacetime continuum that makes their vote incurably disappear!

We’re actually not kidding about that last part:

That’s because those voters failed to follow rules for the first-ever Colorado primaries opened to the unaffiliated bloc, specifically one mandating unaffiliated voters can only send back a Republican or Democratic primary ballot — not both.

The Denver Elections Division says of the 6,185 unaffiliated voters’ ballots they’ve received thus far, 3.4 percent — or 214 — have been rejected because of voters trying to cast ballots in both primaries.

In Larimer County, the percent of rejected ballots for the same reason is 3.15 percent, while it’s 4.3 percent in Arapahoe County.

In El Paso County, 7 percent of unaffiliated voters ballots have been rejected.

Here’s the deal: in an ordinary case of a voter making a mistake on a ballot, in a close election it’s possible to go back to that voter and “cure” their ballot of the offending error so that it can be tabulated. The cure process could prove decisive in (for example) legislative races, which are frequently decided by fewer than 1,000 votes–and sometimes much smaller margins.

But in the case of an unaffiliated voter who submits two primary ballots under the rules of Proposition 108, there’s no way to determine the voter’s intent, and no way to trust any clarification from the voter afterwards. As a result, both ballots are disqualified and there’s no way to “cure” it.

Folks, if any of the primary races next Tuesday are decided by a margin smaller than the number of disqualified unaffiliated primary ballots cast within that district, we’re looking at an electoral crisis. The legitimacy of the whole process of sending unaffiliated voters by default two ballots, whether the instructions provided to voters on what to do with those two ballots were sufficient, whether individual voters were were making honest mistakes or gaming the system–look for all of this to play out in a courtroom near you, with the language of Proposition 108 useful as a guide only to what went wrong.

And while far be it from us to question the wisdom of Colorado voters, maybe this is why parties have primaries in which only party members vote. We’re compelled to offer, as meekly as we can, the suggestion that Proposition 108 was an inherently stupid idea, and a sensible statutory fix like only sending primary ballots to unaffiliated voters on request, and they only get to request one, should be considered at the first convenient opportunity.

In the meantime, well, we’ll just have to see what happens.

18 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. Pseudonymous says:

    While I'm fine to going back to not having a say in who's nominated, how is someone having their ballots declared invalid a different outcome than them never having been able to vote at all?  In this case, hundreds of votes have been disqualified, but tens of thousands of unaffiliated voters have been enfranchised by being allowed to vote.  Seems like an OK ratio to me.

  2. allyncooper says:

    IMHO open primaries are a disaster, notwithstanding the problem as above. I am an unaffiliated voter. I changed my registration over 8 years ago because I no longer wanted to be a member of any political party and I knew at that time I could not vote in a primary.

    Bernie Sanders surprisingly strong challenge to The Anointed One was aided and abetted by his strong showings in open primary states where large numbers of unaffiliated voters voted for him and even some Republicans, doubtless in an effort to weaken The Anointed One.  Of course Sanders himself really wasn't a Democrat – he just became one when it was expedient to do so.


  3. Voyageur says:

    I'm not sure why non-Democrats like Sudafed should tell us who our candidates are in the first place.  But disqualifying the ones who are so stupid that they can't pour piss from a boot by reading the instructions on the heel seems like a small step toward better outcomes.

  4. mamajama55 says:

    Hmmm……wonder why El Paso County voters would have a higher (7%) ratio of ignoring instructions? Perhaps they are even less informed than the rest of Colorado voters? Shocking.

  5. NotHopeful says:

    So four percent or so of unaffiliated voters who choose to vote in the primary don't bother to read the instructions and get their vote invalidated and I'm supposed to conclude that the whole idea of open primaries is a bad one?

    No. Our people who don't want to be in a party, which means that the old system excluded them from choosing candidates and treated them differently from partisans. That is and was unfair.

    Sure, the Secretary of State can think of some ways to inform the public about voting in only one party's primary if one is an independent. But the notion that we should throw out Prop 108 because some people are too lazy or too stupid to read the ballot directions is not one that I can take seriously.

    • Gilpin Guy says:

      Nor people who are so uninterested in the issues of our times that they have no positions that are reflected in any of our various political parties.  Must suck to be devoid of any interest in any of the political parties but stupid enough to believe that your opinion should count in selecting a nominee for the political parties that you hate.

  6. davebarnes says:

    This is noise level worrying. Go back to bed.

  7. 4% is lower percentage than believe in bigfoot and probably lower than the percentage of anti-vaxxers. It's not far off from the vote an unknown candidate can get in today's media saturation bombing campaign climate.

    I think Prop 108 was a dumb, possibly unconstitutional solution to a problem for which there are known good answers. Just, let's not get hyperbolic over basic human failure.

    • Gilpin Guy says:

      It may also get some independents interested in being involved with a political party and maybe run for office which would be a good thing.  The more probable reaction is that lazy people who never contribute to a political party or candidate will now feel entitled to call the shots.  What a bullshit situation for people who care about things that political parties stand for like health care and climate change and social justice.  It's like having scabs in a union shop who never pay union dues but want to be paid union wages.

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