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November 12, 2008 06:16 PM UTC

GarCo Dems Screwed By Undervotes

  • by: Colorado Pols

An important piece of the story, and not just in Garfield County–as the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent reports:

All politics are local.

But for hundreds of Garfield County voters, that aphorism didn’t carry much weight when they headed to the polls last week. They were more interested in this year’s historic presidential race between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain.

Precinct-by-precinct voting results show that while 99.3 percent of county voters marked their ballot for a presidential candidate, just about 94 percent of voters made a selection in each of the two county commissioner races this year.

At least 1,243 people seemed to ignore the District 2 commissioner race between Republican John Martin and Democrat Stephen Bershenyi – a race where Martin came out on top by 350 votes.

About 1,325 voters also didn’t mark their ballot in the battle between Republican Mike Samson and Democrat Steve Carter. Samson won that race by 658 votes…

It’s pretty clear now that the massive turnout seen on Election Day, motivated by the presidential election, didn’t reach down the ballot nearly as much as hoped. Owing to the incredibly lengthy ballot this year and a widespread feeling among new voters that there was only one vote that mattered, many thousands of Colorado ballots were indeed left unmarked below the top one or two marquee races. Anecdotal reports suggest that the Obama campaign’s GOTV operation just didn’t have the time–or the inclination–to spend a lot of time talking to voters about ballot initiatives or local races.

And as elated as they may be by the results at the top of the ticket, Garfield County Democrats sure wish they had…


33 thoughts on “GarCo Dems Screwed By Undervotes


      As a handful of counties across the state labored to finish ballot counts late Wednesday, it appeared Coloradans had voted in record numbers this election.

      More than 2.1 million people cast ballots for Tuesday’s general election, according to tallies available Wednesday evening. But those numbers did not reflect possibly more than 100,000 ballots still being counted in a number of counties, most notably Boulder and Adams.

      Adding those estimates into the total means turnout this year probably surpassed the 2,148,036 ballots cast in the record-setting 2004 election.

      True, naysayers ask “why wasn’t it even higher?” in the same tone of voice they asked over the summer, “why isn’t Obama running away with this?” But a record turnout is a record turnout.

  1. Whenever I helped out, they were concerned with one thing: President.

    It’s hard to blame them though, what were they supposed to do? It was hard enough to talk to some people about Obama, let alone explain to them a litany of complicated ballot initiatives.

    That said, the CDP should be working on ways to curb the undervoting. In fact, it should probably be their #1 non-policy priority.

    1. In CD1 it was all just straight registration and turnout.

      In CD2 it included a lot of multi-candidate literature carried by volunteers. (As far as I know, without coordination. It just might have been the nature of the volunteer base due to the CD2 primaries.)

      In CD4 it was a persuasion campaign, but not so much about other candidates. (Which makes the Markey victory all the more impressive.)

      What the field effort looked like really depended on where you were.

    2. The Obama campaign couldn’t have focused on the local races, legally.  Because of the screwy (lack of) interaction between state and federal campaign finance laws, it really is hard to truly have a “coordinated” campaign that coordinates between the federal and state races.

      That’s why you saw so much coordination between the Udall and Obama efforts, but not really any coordination between those efforts and the legislative or county-level efforts.

      1. The coordination becomes an issue because the Obama campaign chose to do its own GOTV rather than running it through the CDP.  If it was CDP running it, they could have coordinated all they wanted.

        1. The maze gets a little confusing, but Forward Colorado and the Campaign for Change both were run by the CDP. The level of merger of their operations varied by region.

          Still, the division between State and Federal have to be maintained even when there is a single CDP run Federal Coordinated Campaign like Victory 2006.  

          1. Either they heard you and they still voted center right or the candidates fielded just didn’t have the right message for the independents that swung the vote.

            Any rumors of moves afoot to reset the Party Chair, Pat Waak?

            1. The CDP is in a pretty good position.  Yes, we lost a House seat in a 2:1 GOP district by a very close margin.  But on the flip side, we now have three Democrats representing Colorado Springs in the Legislature — a pretty impressive feat.  

              Everything we had in 2003 has been flipped on its head.  2008 was a very successful year for Colorado Dems, and to think otherwise would be silly.  Think of all of the legislative targets the GOP told us they’d win, even in a “wave” year.  Their success rate was pretty paltry.

              So, I’ve heard of no moves to “reset” the Party Chair.  Pat Waak, should she so decide, deserves a third term, and I’d be fully supportive of such a decision.

              1. There was plenty of undervoting  descending the ballot in Arapahoe County, for instance, but not just on the Dem side.  Convincing everyone to vote the whole ballot is just never going to happen.  Here in my corner of the world we still managed to elect Udall, Joe Rice and most likely Linda Newell as well, despite the undervotes. After that it gets shakier but not always because of disproportionate under votes.  Some of it is pure name recognition.

              1. but David’s right: except for losing Bernie Buescher and Amendment 59, Democrats basically ran the table. Picking up a senate and U.S. House seat in return for keeping the same 59-41 edge in lege seats they won in 2006 (sweeted by a state senate win offsetting a House loss) and carrying Colorado for Obama is a stunning achievement.

                In the incredibly unlikely event that Ds don’t want Pat Waak for another term, do you suppose they’d be so kind as to loan her to the Republicans.  

                    1. …I can’t believe y’all are so enamored of Waak.  She’s so grating…..and she doesn’t give the impression of intelligence.  Plus, she doesn’t understand the concept of a microphone.  Dear Pat: when you put a microphone one inch from your yapper, you don’t need to shout and shatter everyone’s eardrums!

                    2. Have you ever listened to her? She comes across as quite smart. And if the only person she grates on is you (as the rest of us are “so enamored” of her) – I’d say she’s doing pretty good.

                      Even Libertad likes her – that’s an amazing range she appeals to.

      2. so I know what you’re talking about Dan.

        The CDP did a phenomenal job in ’08, and I agree that Pat Waak deserves another term as Chair.

        More than anything I was trying to say (poorly) that it should be a lesson for the next election.

        New Era Colorado was promoting a “vote the whole ballot” agenda when I talked to them right before the election. I think that’s a pretty good start, but their targets are young people like me, not the reliable voters.

        It’ll be easier to have that kind of effort to curb undervoting in ’10 without the hoopla of the Presidential election.

  2. How do we know that the undervotes were straight ticket Democratic voters?

    It may be that ticket splitting accounted for the vote spread, and that undervoting was either evenly divided amongst the candidates, or may even have lost Republican votes.

    Some undervoters are independent voters who only vote on races where they have information. I’d like to think that with more info they would have chosen down ticket Dems, but who says that is the case?

    1. In the Martin/Bershenyi race most of all — 1240 undervotes and only a 350 vote margin. Obviously the undervotes were decisive.

      I hope this critique works out better for you than your “Pols was wrong about the NRSC” BS from a few weeks ago–everybody needs a gadfly, right?

      1. The people who didn’t vote at all were far more “decisive” because they outnumbered the undervotes. Hell, the people who chose not to even live in Colorado really decided this election because if they had moved to Colorado before the deadline, registered, and then voted for the Democrats, then it would have been a landslide.

        Until there is data about who the undervotes would have voted for, we don’t know if they would have helped or hurt the Democrats.

        Just because people voted for Obama does not mean they would have broken 796 – 444 in the down ticket races and closed the gap. Maybe they would have, or maybe these voters just weren’t straight ticket partisans.

        (And btw. Pols was wrong about the NRSC a few weeks ago. Look at the actual data from the ad spending after the “done deal” pronouncement.)

        1. We were 100% accurate in our coverage of the NRSC’s pullout–and the people who need to know the full story of that leak, not to mention the chaotic second-guessing which resulted from its premature disclosure, already do.

          That said, we’re in no position to speak ill of gadflies.

    2. Never confuse correlation with causation.

      There were also about 1300 undervotes in the HD55 race, but until canvass is done and I get the reports I need, I won’t know in which precincts the undervotes occurred.  That’s the point at which I can begin to surmise whether they were Republicans or Democrats voting only the top of the ticket.

      Right now, undervotes, whether in Garfield County or Mesa County, are simply an interesting observation.  They are not yet even a data point.

      Any speculation about who won or lost as a result of people voting the top of the ticket is just that–speculation.

  3. What happened in GarCo could be a preview of the 2010 election across the state: oil and gas companies poured thousands of dollars into various 527’s, which sent out false negative advertising against the commissioner candidates (and the likes of Rep. Bernie Buescher) in the last days of the election — not too different from the anti-58 campaign. Sen. Josh Penry, Scott McInnis, an oil-and-gas lobbyist for EnCana, and Scott Shires, among others, were behind this effort. Up to $200,000 might have been spent to defeat the GarCo Dem candidates, an estimate based on advertising and polling purchases.

    Oil and gas had a lot to lose in Garfield –and in any county in the gas drilling sacrifice zone — had the Dems won: impacts fees would have surely been implemented, as well as fines for drilling waste spills, harder rules on air and water quality, etc, etc. Right now, the Republican-controlled commission in Garfield, (as well as in Mesa, Moffat, Delta, etc) rubber-stamps all oil and gas requests ie man camps on private property without an owner’s consent and the county-backed $25 million dollar road to nowhere (except to Chevron gas fields.)

    Many of the Democratic inroads in 2004 and 2006 on the Western Slope fell apart in 2008 because of the amount of money and manpower the oil and gas interests were pouring into the local Republican Parties and candidates across the Western Slope. Democrats on the Front Range better take heed: This cancer that has infested western Colorado during this election may spread in 2010.  

  4. Where Democrat Linda Newell now leads Lauri Clapp by 96 votes with all precincts in but provisionals still being counted.

    In arapahoe alone, there were 4,646 undervotes in that race.


  5. This year was very confusing for a number of county parties; the focus on Colorado was so intense, it distracted and overshadowed some of the regular party-slate activities and GOTV.

    I suspect that in some of these districts, though, there were other factors than just party outreach that lead to the undervotes.  And no matter how hard you try, local political races never seem to do as well as the bigger races.

    1. know anything about any of the down ballot candidates, are not intensely partisan and prefer not to vote in those races.  

      Agree it may be easier in 2010 without all the hoopla of a historic Presidential to try to get more focus on the less glamorous races but undervoting and low info voters will always be with us.

      Every election the party tries to figure out how to get more voters to vote the whole ballot and every election the results of all efforts are underwhelming.

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