Colorado Has One of the Highest Voter Turnouts in the Country. Here’s How They Did It

StoryNovember 05, 2019
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As local elections take place nationwide, voters in Colorado are enjoying greater access to the ballot than ever as the state’s vote-by-mail system allows residents to bypass long lines at polling places. The state also has voting measures which include automatic voter registration with driver’s license services, an extension of the vote to parolees, and allowance for some 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections. Colorado is considered an example for states needing to expand voter access at a time when Republican legislatures and statehouses across the country are attempting to suppress the vote. We speak with Jena Griswold, Colorado’s secretary of state, who says that Colorado has “the highest percentage of eligible citizens registered to vote, and our participation rates are often the first or second for the entire nation.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to look at how Colorado has taken steps to make it easier for residents to vote. Colorado’s vote-by-mail system allows residents to bypass long lines at polling places. Additional measures include automatic voter registration with driver’s license services, extending the vote to parolees and allowing some 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections. As a result, Colorado ranks among the highest in the nation for voter turnout and is considered an example for states needing to expand voter access at a time when Republican legislatures and statehouses across the country are attempting to suppress the vote.

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold joins us now from Denver, Colorado.

We welcome you to Democracy Now! Secretary of State Griswold, explain how the mail-in system works. And what happens today if someone didn’t mail in their vote? Can they still vote in Colorado?

SECRETARY OF STATE JENA GRISWOLD: So, every eligible and registered Coloradan receives a mail-in ballot right to their house. And that’s really exciting for a lot of Coloradans and has really increased voter participation. We have the highest percentage of eligible citizens registered to vote, and our participation rates are often the first or second for the entire nation, so lots of people are participating. The great thing about our model is that folks receive a mail-in ballot, but if they decide to vote in person, they can still do that. So, people can literally drop off their mail-in ballot or not even take their mail-in ballot, go in person, get a new ballot and vote right at a polling center.

AMY GOODMAN: How did this come about? How did the mail-in system come about? Of course, it’s not only in Colorado. You’ve got Oregon. You’ve got Washington. And why does this make voting so much more accessible?

SECRETARY OF STATE JENA GRISWOLD: Well, this came about in 2013 and actually passed with bipartisan support here in Colorado. A lot of Republican county clerks pushed these reforms. And it’s more efficient. It’s cheaper. It ends up being just a great system, because, you know, there are sometimes lines in Colorado, but we don’t suffer from the type of long lines we see on Election Day across the country. But we really have a commitment to make sure that every eligible Coloradan’s voice is heard, whether they’re Republican, Democrat or independent, whether they’re from rural Colorado, like me, or a big city, rich or poor. And so, we have continued to just improve our model. I just led and was able to pass this last legislative session the Colorado Votes Act, which adds polling locations and mail-in dropboxes across the state and then guarantees, for the first time ever, either a polling center or a dropbox on public universities and on tribal lands at tribal leadership’s request.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what about the whole issue that some critics may raise of the fact that the potential for abuse when you have an entire electorate voting by mail, in terms of influencing, let’s say, seniors at a senior citizen center or the head of a family influencing the rest of members of their family as they’re filling out their ballots at home — the sanctity of the secret ballot? Have any audits been done as to how this might affect the voting process?

SECRETARY OF STATE JENA GRISWOLD: You know, generally, we do not have any complaints. Here in Colorado, we do allow assistance to voters. So, if a voter needs help filling out that ballot, they can sure ask one of their friends, family members. But it’s the law that whoever is offering assistance has to fill out the ballot as to how the voter guides them. It has increased accessibility tremendously to people who just can’t make it to the polls. And very luckily, we still offer that in-person voting experience. And what we see during general elections is about half of all the people that go to polling centers are either updating their registration or registering for the first time ever. So, unlike many states, what we do here in Colorado is offer same-day voter registration. So an eligible person can literally go to the polls today, register to vote and cast their ballot.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, on the issue of parolees, Colorado just passed a law restoring voting rights to parolees. Can you explain how it works and how many people it will impact?

SECRETARY OF STATE JENA GRISWOLD: Sure. So, previously, folks on probation had the right to vote in Colorado, and there was preregistration of parolees. One of the things that we passed last legislative session that I am very proud of, that, again, just underlines our commitment to make sure that eligible people can vote, is parolee re-enfranchisement. So, what happened is, everybody that was on preregistration as a parolee got kicked into just normal voter status. So, parolees now in Colorado can register to vote. They can vote in this election. And I just think all of our reforms shine in stark contrast to the voter suppression we see across this country. And I’m just so proud to be able to fight for everyday Americans, everyday Coloradans, and having the opportunity to shape our shared future.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you so much for being with us, Jena Griswold, secretary of state of Colorado, speaking to us from Denver.

And that does it for our show. Again, on Friday night, 6 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Democracy Now! we’ll be co-sponsoring the first Environmental Justice Presidential Candidate Forum. It’ll be in Orangeburg, South Carolina. I’ll be co-moderating. Check us out at democracynow.org and on your local station. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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