Who’s Afraid of All-Mail Ballots? Not The GOP Anymore!

Eli Stokols of FOX 31 writes for Politico Magazine about one very unexpected development of this week's election in Colorado: how the GOP appears to have utilized the state's new all-mail ballot system, a reform they staunchly opposed in the legislature last year, to considerable success:

What has been viewed as a partisan attempt by Democrats to further capitalize on the state’s shifting demographics, making it easier for low-propensity voters to cast ballots, appears to have backfired. An early read of Colorado’s returns shows a much older electorate than anyone had predicted: roughly 60 percent of Colorado voters were over the age of 50. Thus, it appears that many who took advantage of the mail-in option were older voters who tended Republican. Turnout, despite the best efforts of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s vaunted Bannock Street Project and other turnout efforts by other progressive groups, was barely above 2010 levels. Gardner won easily and Beauprez took Hickenlooper, who finally claimed victory Wednesday morning, to extra innings because Democrats were surprisingly hoisted on their own petard of election reform.

While so many people are concerned about Republican efforts to roll back voter rights in other states with controversial voter ID laws, limits on absentee balloting and other measures, Democrats—by expanding voting rights in Colorado—paid the price in a state they might otherwise have won.

In the final days of the campaign, Udall’s team saw a narrow path to a late Election Night victory if they could get the overall Republican voter registration advantage below 6 percent and win big with unaffiliated voters. In the end, they did narrow the GOP edge to 5.4 percent, less than the 6 percent margin Sen. Michael Bennet overcame in 2010. But they fell well short of Bennet’s double-digit margins with unaffiliated voters. That’s little surprise given Gardner’s strength as a candidate—he simply never seemed as scary to women or Hispanic voters as Udall’s campaign said he was—and the fundamentals of the 2014 cycle.

In the Denver Post's related story today, DU professor Seth Masket is less certain mail ballots boosted the GOP, but it's pretty evident they did not help Democrats close the gap in a midterm election already stacked against them:

"It's hard to say what the overall lesson for turnout is" from the universal mail-ballot law, said Seth Masket, chairman of the University of Denver's Department of Political Science. "But what happened in Colorado doesn't look too different from what happened in an awful lot of other states, in that you saw some Republicans who outperformed the polling, and Democrats took losses (nearly) across the board."

Masket long had been skeptical that the 2013 law passed by Colorado Democrats — requiring the sending of a ballot to every registered voter with a verifiable address — would boost Democrats' prospects in a non-presidential election.

The legislation that resulted in mail ballots being sent to every registered voters in Colorado this year, House Bill 13-1303, was hotly opposed by Republicans in the legislature in Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler. Right-leaning "vote watchdogs" like eccentric Aspen millionaire Marilyn Marks warned that mail ballots would allow Democrats to swamp the election with fraud. Now Secretary of State-elect Wayne Williams…well, he didn't actually help scare people about this law much, it's true, though he did try. The law attracted conservative attention again after "gotcha" artist James O'Keefe led a couple of low-level GOTV staffers into endorsing his theory about how mail ballot fraud might work (even though what he proposed would never work).

Regardless, with the election now over and the GOP riding high, Republicans are singing a very different tune about Colorado's mail ballots:

"With mail ballots, the presumption has been it's better for Democrats and liberal interest groups," said Josh Penry, a Republican consultant to the Coffman campaign. "That doesn't have to be the case. The advantage goes to who's best-funded and -organized."

In hindsight, the results make it pretty clear that that the hysteria over House Bill 13-1303 was as unfounded as the Republican county clerks who helped write it always said. And if you're not convinced that Republicans were not fully embracing House Bill 1303 by Election Day, here's Jon Caldara of the Independence Institute–one of the most controversial opponents of the new election laws–endorsing same-day voter registration:

Bottom line: Colorado's experiment with modernized, easily accessible voting in 2014 strongly argues against the kinds of voting restrictions traditionally favored by Republicans. Where in many states Republican-controlled legislatures have clamped down on voting methods, accessibility, and documentation, Colorado took the 180-degree opposition approach of making it as easy to vote as possible while preserving basic safeguards.

And apparently, that didn't hurt the GOP at all. While that one-time result may disappoint some partisan Democrats, we are obliged to consider it a positive development for small-d democracy.

17 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. DaftPunk says:

    You're projection is showing in your presumptions; that parties only legislate to their partisan advantage, and Democrats only support universal suffrage for their own benefit, not for the ideal of representative democracy.

    • BlueCat says:

      Since the common wisdom is that higher turn out is good for Dems, of course part of the reason Dems support better access is to help elect Dems. Let's not get carried away with making Dems out to be saintly. Apparently, the easiest access the first time around didn't change midterm voting habits. Older, whiter more affluent Republican voters still turn out better at midterm than younger more minority less affluent Dem voters. Access doesn't confer advantage if people don't use it.  

      However, Dem demos do use it in presidential years so working for expanding rather than contracting access between now and 2016 and making sure all those who will need new IDs in states that have imposed new restrictions have them in time will definitely be important in the 2016 elections.

      • MichaelBowman says:

        The antithesis to our voting regime delivers these outcomes:

        In the North Carolina Senate race, Thom Tillis beat Senator Kay Hagen by 48,000 votes. North Carolina’s voters were, for the first time, voting under one of the harshest new election laws in the country — which Tillis helped craft. The Election Protection hotline reported widespread problems with voter registrations and voters being told they were in the wrong precinct. Numbers from recent elections suggest the magnitude of voter suppression is close to 45,000 to 50,000 votes.

        Similarly, in Kansas, Governor Sam Brownback beat back challenger Paul Davis by fewer than 33,000 votes. The Kansas secretary of state says more than 24,000 Kansans tried to register this year but their registrations were held in “suspense” because they failed to present the documentary proof of citizenship now required by state law. And the Government Accountability Office found that Kansas’s voter ID law reduced turnout by 17,000 voters in 2012.

        The math isn't that hard to perform…

        • BlueCat says:

          That's why the best allocation of money and energy will be to make sure voters have the documents they need in advance of the 2016 election because those state restrictions will probably remain in place, backed by our political hack rightie majority in the Supremes.  I wasn't saying that improved access doesn't matter because of midterm voting habits. Just that, here in Colorado in this midterm election it didn't change voting patterns. Also that it's silly to ascribe Dems only motives pure as the driven snow. This is politics not cancer research.

          Where we can't overturn these suppression measures we need  massive drives to get the right documents to as many voters unfortunate enough to live in those states as possible because we can't expect the Supremes to stand up against de facto poll taxes.  We have to deal with what is, not what should be, even while working to change it.

          • Progressicat says:

            I'm with the other cat.

            Take some of those millions of dollars that only seem to show up six months before an election and use them now, not in 2016, to start getting voters the documentation they need, registering them to vote, and showing them were and how to do it.

            I don't know if that's Voter Corps or Vote for American, but connect young volunteers and lawyers and send them out day after day to track down birth records, get court decisions on status, whatever it is that is required in their state.  We know that voter ID laws are unsupportable rationally, that they're suppressive, and that they're unfair.  So what?  They're the new normal.  Fight to end restrictions, but take the parallel path to defeat them by making obliterating their premise.

  2. Tazistan Jen says:

    This is some good news out of the election, then. Making it easier to vote is a good thing, even when I am a bit sad about who chose to vote this time.

  3. gasan says:

    I was a huge supporter of HB 13-1303. Some of the candidates I wanted to win didn't, but I'm happy with the way the law worked. I remember detractors said that it'd assure permanent Democratic majorities by increasing turnout, but I didn't exactly buy into that and now I feel like this election backs up my assumption. 

    Increased voter turnout is good, no matter who gets elected. But there's a lot of work to be done still. Many people opted not to vote, and even more aren't even registered to begin with. This law is a step in the right direction.

    • BlueCat says:

      Me too.  The fact that it went off without any hint of the dire voter fraud consequences Rs invoke bolsters arguments that that there is no "there" there in claims that voter fraud needs to be addressed by draconian solutions to a non- problem. And it will definitely be good for Dems in the next presidential year election because our demos do turn out for those and will take advantage of easier access. 

    • Gilpin Guy says:

      I'm with you on this one gasan.  Republicans were potent with their ballot casting but Dems will also get a benefit in the next presidential when there is more interest and more voting across the board.  This was one of the lowest voting mid-terms percentagewise since 1942.  All mail-in is here to stay just like legalization so get used to it.

  4. Big Time says:

    The idea of suppressing the vote (ie, Voter ID) is un-American, period. 

    We should want more people involved in Democracy, in understanding our political process and how our government works to solve problems for its citizens. To learn about the issues of the day and how politics functions as a marketplace where competing ideas are given a voice and a vote and our society adopts policies to meet our ever changing conditions.  

    Voting gives people a stake in America and that is a good thing.


  5. Sunmusing says:

    Ok, mail in balloting is great…the next real problem are the counting machines…there are problems with them and are more likely to be exposed to election fraud than voter fraud…there shouldn't be one party to watch over this system…there needs to be an independent agency to watch over the process…don't trust the R's…

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