By Corey Hutchins
This story was originally published in The Colorado Independent.
Democratic voters also nominated a woman for the presidency for the first time in history, and a billionaire celebrity with no previous political experience is carrying the banner for the Republicans.
But there’s something else new for Colorado this cycle: This election will be the first time voters here will get a presidential ballot delivered to them in the mail weeks before Election Day.
That’s because of a package of new election laws passed by Democratic lawmakers in 2013. That year, as a rash of restrictive Republican-led Voter ID bills flurried around state capitols, Colorado stood out as a place where the legislature, controlled by Democrats, enacted new laws to make it easier, not harder, to vote. The new laws also allow unregistered voters to sign up on Election Day so they can cast a ballot.
This year, voters will get their ballots in the mail starting Oct. 17. They can fill them out and mail them back immediately or they can hit up drop-off locations near where they live. If voters instead want to wait until Election Day to vote in person at their local polling place, they can still do that, too.
The new laws are also changing the ways presidential campaigns here do business, says Meredith Thatcher, the spokeswoman for Hillary Clinton’s Colorado campaign.
One big push for Clinton organizers throughout the summer has been making sure registered voters have accurately updated their voting information so they get a ballot in the mail. (Find out if yours is correct here.)
Those efforts might be working. According to data from the Secretary of State, thousands of Democratic voters have shifted from having an “inactive” voting status to an “active” status in recent months.
In Colorado, “Active” voters are registered voters who have an address that the Secretary of State’s office can confirm with a mailing. “Inactive” voters include voters who don’t appear to live at the address the state has on record.
“Both are eligible to vote,” says Secretary of State spokeswoman Lynn Bartels, but her office can’t send a ballot to an inactive voter because officials know the address is wrong and ballots are not forwardable.
“That’s something that we found that a lot of folks aren’t necessarily aware of, especially out on college campuses,” Thatcher says.
As of Sept. 1, Colorado Democrats were fewer than 3,000 voters away from overtaking registered Republicans among the state’s active voters, which was a big swing from just one month prior.
Each month, the Secretary of State releases a data dump of voter registration figures. In July, the report made headlines because registered Democrats outpaced registered Republicans here for the first time in 20 years. The caveat was that there were still about 8,400 more active Republican voters throughout the state than Democrats. By the end of August, though, that number tightened to about 2,680.
Democrats still outnumbered total registered Republican voters in Colorado by about 20,000 as of Sept. 1. New numbers will come out next month.
Thatcher says the Clinton campaign has also registered “thousands and thousands” of new voters in Colorado throughout the summer. (A senior advisor to Donald Trump declined to talk about how the Colorado Trump campaign is handling its effort here under the new voting laws.)
This year political observers will also get a daily snapshot of how many Republicans and Democrats have mailed in their ballots. While the numbers might not give an accurate prediction of the outcome, they will show which party’s members tend to vote earlier.
In 2014, the first year Colorado had a statewide election under the new voting system, more Colorado Republicans mailed in ballots for governor and U.S. Senate early, while Democrats waited until closer to Election Day.
A major question after this election will be if the new voting system helps Democrats or Republicans in a presidential year in Colorado.
In 2014, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper was re-elected, but incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall lost.
Ironically, posits one former Udall staffer, though Democratic lawmakers passed the 2013 laws, the new system might have ended up helping Republican Cory Gardner beat Udall in that race because he had a higher margin of voters over 50 and an all-mail system allows older voters to cast ballots more easily.
Another feature of a presidential campaign in a state with mail-in ballots is that campaigns now know when you’ve voted— and once you cast a ballot, they’ll leave you alone.
That’s because after ballots go out to voters on Oct. 17 local county clerks throughout the state will start publicly reporting which households have turned them in. Campaigns will grab that information and load it into their data banks to make sure they aren’t wasting resources trying to convince someone who has already voted.
Says Thatcher: “We’ll be striking voters who have already voted regularly so that we’re not sending people to their door again or blowing up their phones.”