CO Democrats lead GOP heading into election for first time in 32 years

U.S. President Ronald Reagan, left, and Democratic candidate Walter Mondale shake hands at the start of their second 1984 presidential debate in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds/Denver Public Library)
U.S. President Ronald Reagan, left, and Democratic candidate Walter Mondale shake hands at the start of their second 1984 presidential debate in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds/Denver Public Library)

A CNN reporter who had been tracking Colorado’s voter registration correctly surmised that by September’s end Democrats would outnumber Republicans but he wondered: When was the last time that happened going into a general election?

Reporter Marshall Cohen called with that question in mid-September. A search through voter abstracts and binders — filled with monthly registration stats —  revealed it was 1984. Despite the lead, President Reagan still carried Colorado.

The research turned up some other interesting factoids on Colorado’s voter history: Fifty years ago, more than one-fourth of Colorado voters lived in Denver County, and unaffiliated voters over the decades have often been the largest voting block in the state, just as they are right now.

The next monthly report from Colorado Secretary of State’s office on voter registration is due this week  now available at the SoS website.  (Unaffiliated voters are still the largest voting block, despite an earlier report in this blog that Democrats had taken the lead. It’s so tough when Curis Hubbard is right.) When last month’s report was issued, the state had 3.1 million active voters, including 998,845 Democrats and 992,944 Republicans.

Cohen and colleague Jeff Simon visited Colorado to talk to them.

“Whether it’s because of the mountains, the microbreweries or the legal marijuana, Colorado is an attractive place to live,” they wrote.

The CNN piece was titled, “Colorado is not a battleground this year; Is it the next blue state?”

Marshall Cohen from CNN visited Colorado to talk to voters and discuss the state's status as a swing state. (SOS photo)
Marshall Cohen from CNN visited Colorado to talk to voters and discuss the state’s status as a swing state. (SOS photo)

That’s what Democrats thought after their victories in 2012, when Coloradans re-elected President Obama and won back the state House, and part of why they pushed gun-control legislation in the 2013 session.

But Republicans proved Colorado is a swing state with their victories in 2014, including the ouster of the first U.S. senator in 36 years.

When Cohen called looking for information I decided to start my research in 1966 because I like the idea of going back 50 years. Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams was stunned when he read through the historic voter stats piled on my desk.

In 1966 more than 25 percent of Colorado’s 924,968 voters lived in Denver County and less than 60,000 voters lived in El Paso County, where Williams resides. The 2016 September voter-registration figures showed Denver with the most voters, 378,602, but El Paso County is close behind at 367,307. At the start of the year, El Paso County had more voters than any other county.

Former Colorado U.S. Sen. Bill Armstrong seated to the right of President Reagan. Both won re-election in 1984. (Family photo)
Former Colorado U.S. Sen. Bill Armstrong seated to the right of President Reagan. Colorado voters in 1984 supported Armstrong and Reagan’s re-election bids. (Family photo)

Another interesting thing about 1966: The largest voting block was unaffiliated voters, followed by Democrats and Republicans. The same for 1968. By 1970, Democrats and unaffiliated voters had switched places while Republicans still trailed. By 1972, unaffiliated voters were comfortably back in the No. 1 spot.

The dominance of unaffiliated voters intrigued me because of two November ballot measures concerning unaffiliated voters and primary participation, Proposition 107 and Proposition 108. Backers say unaffiliated voters are the largest voting block in Colorado and are being shut out of the process. But the voting records show unaffiliated voters have played a major role in Colorado at least for the last 50 years without the laws being changed to accommodate them in primary elections (unaffiliated voters can already vote in primary elections by identifying with one party or another — they can change back to unaffiliated within minutes of marking their ballot).

As for 1984, the voter registration numbers prior to the election showed 514,715 Democrats and 514,383 Republicans. Unaffiliated voters once again took the top spot, with 592,208 voters.

On the ballot that year:  Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale for president, and Bill Armstrong and Nancy Dick for U.S. Senate. Republicans prevailed in both races in Colorado despite the Democratic edge. That’s because unaffiliated voters hold the key in Colorado elections, and the way they vote often matches the national mood.

1 thought on “CO Democrats lead GOP heading into election for first time in 32 years”

  1. You can say unaffiliated voters have played a major role, but that doesn’t excuse locking them out of primary elections they pay for. With 107 and 108, unaffiliated voters can play a major role in all elections.

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