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.