Here come the unaffiliated voters

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams listens to questions Friday in Grand Junction as part of the UChooseCO campaign, intended to help unaffiliated voters learn their new role in the primary election. To his right is an inflatable 8-foot “U.” Participants were asked to write on it something that represented their values. Williams later penned, “Community.” (SOS photo)

GRAND JUNCTION — Bob Cook’s an unaffiliated voter in Mesa County who was asked to speak at the kickoff for a  campaign designed to help educate unaffiliated voters about their new role in the primary election.

He’s also the pastor of the Victory Life Church in Fruita, which is why minutes before the news conference on Friday he pretended to pull a speech from his jacket and said, “He is risen.”

Pastor Bob Cook is an unaffiliated voter in Mesa County. (SOS photo)

That got some laughs but Cook saved that sermon for today and instead dealt with the ballot measure Coloradans passed in 2016. Proposition 108 allows unaffiliated voters to automatically participate in primary elections without having to declare membership in either the Republican or the Democratic party. But they must choose between the Republican or Democratic ballot.

Cook was joined by Secretary of State Wayne Williams, clerks from three counties and several Mesa County elected officials to launch the UChooseCO campaign.

The goal is to let unaffiliated voters know they can now participate in primary elections, that they can choose whether they want to receive a Republican or a Democratic ballot and those who don’t will get both ballots but can only vote one.

“I hope that unaffiliated voters will do exactly what this campaign is designed to do: Take advantage of the chance to participate but just don’t mail in both the Republican and the Democratic ballots because that wipes out your vote,” Cook  said.

The kickoff Friday coincided with the spring conference for Club 20, an influential Western Slope organization. Both were held at the DoubleTree.

Former Secretary of State Bernie Buescher, a Grand Junction resident, spoke to Club 20 about redistricting and reapportionment and then walked outside to the patio to talk about UChooseCO, a mostly digital campaign aimed at Colorado’s unaffiliated voters.

Former Secretary of State Bernie Buescher and Secretary of State Wayne Williams on Friday kicked off a campaign in Grand Junction to help unaffiliated voters correctly fill out their ballots. (SOS photo)

“A lot of us have come to the understanding that the system we have in Colorado has become too tilted in favor of the two parties,” Buescher said. “I think the decision to allow unaffiliateds to vote in the primary makes for a better state.”

Featured at the news conference was an 8-foot, inflatable yellow U that participants were encouraged to write on to list their values. Buescher wrote, “Compromise is good.” The moderate Democrat once served in the legislature, and he bemoaned the dwindling number of lawmakers willing to cross the aisle.

Buescher also praised Secretary Williams, saying his office has done a “great job of writing the rules and working with the clerks” on the implementation of Prop 108.

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, Mesa County Clerk Sheila Reiner and Mesa County Sheriff Matt Lewis at a news conference Friday in Grand Junction to launch the UChooseCO campaign. (SOS photo)

One rule allows unaffiliated voters to choose whether they want a Republican or Democratic ballot by going to GoVoteColorado.com. They can click on “Find my Registration” and mark the section for choosing a ballot.

Mesa County Clerk Sheila Reiner said having to mail just one ballot to unaffiliated voters instead of both will reduce the mailing cost from $1 to 62 cents.

“We’re a customer-service oriented office but we’re also stewards of taxpayers’ money,” she said.

Montrose County Clerk Tressa Guynes said she has talked to people who voted for Proposition 108 who believe they can, for example, vote on the Democratic ballot for governor and on the Republican ballot for treasurer.

“If you vote both ballots you void both ballots,” she said. “We want your vote to count so we are really emphasizing this to try to reduce voter confusion.”

Delta County Clerk Teri Stephenson pointed out that more than one third of the registered voters in Colorado are unaffiliated.

“There are a lot of people that can now have a voice and be heard,” she said. “We welcome them to the primary.”

Montrose County Clerk Tressa Guynes points to literature reminding unaffiliated voters they can only mark one ballot for the primary.  (SOS photo)

At the primary election, voters choose candidates for the November election. Unaffiliated voters can only mark one ballot in the primary, but in the general election they can choose Republicans, Democrats, third-party hopefuls and unaffiliated candidates.

Williams noted that nothing changes for Republicans and Democrats — they will still be mailed the ballot for their party for the primary, and are free to vote for candidates of any party in November.

“To me the most confusing part of this is we’re going to send you two ballots and we’re going to say you can only vote one,” he said. “We have never to my knowledge at any point sent you a ballot and said, ‘Don’t vote it.’ Never.”

UChooseCO kickoffs for Colorado Springs and Denver are scheduled for Tuesday.