Monday was the first day that county clerks could mail ballots to in-state voters, which made for interesting visits when Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams stopped in Jackson and Grand counties that day.
The number of active voters in scenic Jackson County is only 983, which is why they hand count their ballots, Clerk Hayle Johnson said.
The secretary then headed south to equally beautiful Grand County, where Clerk Sara Rosene, her staff and election judges loaded boxes filled with ballots into two large county vehicles in a race to get them to the Post Office.
“As someone who used to be a clerk and recorder, I know the work that goes into getting ballots to the voters,” said Williams, who worked in El Paso County before being elected secretary of state in 2014.
All clerks in Colorado are mailing a record number of ballots for this election because it’s the first time in history unaffiliated voters can automatically participate in the primary elections. In the past, those voters did not receive primary ballots unless they affiliated with either the Republican or Democratic party.
The number of active Republican and unaffiliated voters in Grand is nearly the same, 4,299 to 4,148, respectively, with Democrats trailing at 2,415 voters. But Republicans rule the roost in Jackson, with 677 active GOP voters, while there are 196 unaffiliated voters and 99 Democrats. Both counties have small numbers of third-party voters, who won’t be participating in the primary because they have no contested races.
Colorado has 1.2 million active unaffiliated voters and they are the largest voting block in the state, according to the latest voter registration statistics from the Secretary of State’s office.
Williams launched the UChooseCO campaign to inform unaffiliated voters they could participate in the primary and that they could choose to have either the Republican or Democrat ballot sent to them (although that deadline has passed). Those voters who did not indicate a preference will get both the Republican and the Democratic ballot but they will have to choose between them and return just one. If they vote both, neither ballot will count.
“We only had three unaffiliated voters indicate a preference,” Johnson said.
But she said voters in Jackson County get excited about elections because “we get to have a say.”
The visit in Grand County was a little more harried. Seven of Rosene’s staffers were at training learning how to use new Motor Vehicle Division equipment, as the state undergoes its first complete upgrade of equipment and programs in 35 years. Most clerks are in the same boat, dealing with a Motor Vehicle equipment transition this summer and as well as preparing for an unknown number of ballots from unaffiliated voters who might not realize they can only vote one ballot.
Rosene said most Motor Vehicle customers stayed away Monday, as they had been warned in newspaper ads and telephone recordings about staff shortages during training.
But some customers said they had to come in Monday and Rosene helped man customer windows in between loading ballot boxes into vehicles and laying out sandwich fixings for her election judges and visitors. Judge Irene Wheatley said that Rosene and her chief deputy, Patty Brown, are incredibly hard working and do so much for the county.
The admiration is mutual.
“Our judges are amazing,” Rosene said. “We’re so lucky in Grand County.