By Lynn Bartels and Julia Sunny
Two Colorado politicians who are unaffiliated appealed Tuesday to other unaffiliated voters to get involved in the June 26 primary election and help choose which Democratic and Republican hopefuls will be on the ballot in November.
Richard Skorman, president of the Colorado Springs City Council, and state Sen. Cheri Jahn of Wheat Ridge, said they are glad not to be unaffiliated with any party. Skorman has been unaffiliated since 2002, while Jahn announced last December that after voting independently for years she was leaving the Democratic Party.
“I really think there’s a lot of us out there who want to be able to weigh in on both sides,” Skorman said, during a news conference at Pioneers Museum in Colorado Springs in the morning.
“I want you to know how important your voices are,” Jahn said, during a news conference on the west steps of the state Capitol in Denver in the afternoon.
The events were part of the Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams’ UChooseCO campaign to help inform unaffiliated voters about their new rights and responsibilities for participating in primary elections. The campaign kicked off last week in Grand Junction.
Kent Thiry, chairman and CEO of DaVita, financed and led Proposition 108, which voters passed in 2016 giving unaffiliated voters — the largest voting block in Colorado — the right to automatically receive primary ballots.
He said in Washington lawmakers have taken him aside to say they would like to vote on compromise bills but if they did they would be knocked out in their next primary election.
“We’ve got lots of elected officials who will be liberated to govern in ways they haven’t been historically,” Thiry told the Denver crowd.
At each event, speakers were asked to write on a yellow, 8-foot, inflatable U a word or phrase that reflected their values. The U’s will remain in their communities during the campaign. Williams, who lives in Colorado Springs and suffers a miserable commute to work in Denver, wrote “I-25” on the U in Colorado Springs. He continued the theme in Denver, writing “transportation” on that inflatable.
Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers noted that in some communities in Colorado, such as his, voter registration is so lopsided that the races are ultimately decided in the primary. There either is no general election opponent or the person doesn’t stand much of a chance.
Also speaking in Colorado Springs was Allysa Seely, the 2016 Paralympic champion in paratriathlon. Seely said she has been unaffiliated since she first registered to vote when she was 19 and is glad she doesn’t have to affiliate with a party to be participate on June 26.
“Colorado is stepping up and making it easier for each person to have a voice and that’s what keeps our democracy alive and that’s really an exciting thing to be a part of,” she said, with her service dog Mowgli at her side.
In Denver, state Sen. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, noted he was an early supporter of Prop 108, after the legislature killed his bill giving unaffiliated voters automatic access to the primary ballot. Moreno serves on the six-person, bipartisan Joint Budget Committee, which Williams approached last year seeking approval to use unspent election funds on a campaign to inform unaffiliated voters. The measure passed unanimously.
“I’m excited that Secretary Williams has embraced this and is making sure that all these unaffiliated voters know they have these new rights and responsibilities,” Moreno said. “Hopefully, they get out and vote.”
The campaign is intended to let unaffiliated voters know that they can participate in the primary, and they no longer have to declare to be a member of a party to do so.
Unaffiliated voters can go online and request either a Republican or a Democratic ballot, but they are not required to do so. If they don’t pick a preference, their clerk will mail them both the Republican and the Democratic ballot but they can only mark one. For example, if someone votes for a treasurer’s candidate on the Republican ballot and a governor’s candidate on the Democratic ballot, both ballots will be rejected.
That’s the message the UChooseCO campaign is broadcasting, said Michael Gifford, president of the Colorado Associated General Contractors, which campaigned for the measure. He spoke in Denver.
“This is too precious of an opportunity to miss because you don’t follow the process,” he said. “Let’s see what we can do to make a better Colorado.”
Kelly Brough, president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, which backed the 2016 ballot measure, also is optimistic about its impact.
“By allowing unaffiliated voters to vote, we believe our elected officials will be rewarded for solving problems and finding solutions,” she said. “My word (for the inflatable U) is ‘fair.’ This is all about being fair and in Colorado we like things to be fair.”
El Paso County Clerk Chuck Broerman and Arapahoe County Clerk Matt Crane during their news conferences talked about efforts statewide from county clerks to welcome unaffiliated voters and try to make sure their votes count.
Williams echoed their sentiments.
“The voters have spoken,” he said, “and it’s the job of election officials to implement their will as best as we can.”