Republicans maintain a considerable ballot lead among the all-mail votes returned to county clerks in the week before the election closes, according to numbers released from the Colorado Secretary of State’s office on Monday.
Republicans have returned 282,317 ballots, or 42.8 percent of all ballots through October 27. Democrats have submitted 213,975 ballots, or 32.4 percent, and unaffiliated come in third, with 156,893 ballots–just under 24 percent.
The 68,342 partisan ballot lead easily outpaces the Republican advantage in 2010 at the same point in the race. Just 25,100 ballots separated the parties in that midterm. Despite the ballot advantage Democrats were able to eke out a key win in the heavily contested U.S. Senate race between Sen. Michael Bennet and Republican Ken Buck, while losing other down-ticket races.
While Republicans have increased their overall share of ballots returned by approximately one percent with just eight days remaining, Democrats have seen their share drop more than 3.5 percent. Unaffiliateds have also seen fewer returns so far, with a little more than 2 percent decrease from 2010.
Overall, the all-mail ballot in 2014 has raised turnout, with nearly 49 percent more ballots submitted on the Monday the week before the election–660,113 (2014) to 443,611 (2010). There are 33.8 percent more Democratic ballots, 52.6 percent more Republican ballots, and 63.6 percent more unaffiliated ballots than at this point in 2010.
But it will be the key 12 battleground counties in Colorado that will likely determine the winners and losers come election day. Republicans lead Democrats in ballot turnout in eight of those counties–Arapahoe, Broomfield, Douglas, El Paso, Jefferson, Larimer, Mesa, and Weld. Democrats hold a ballot advantage in Adams, Boulder, Denver, and Pueblo.
While both parties are leading in their respective strongholds–Republicans in Douglas and El Paso counties and Democrats in Boulder and Denver–the GOP retains substantial partisan leads in two-tossup counties that both parties know are absolutely key to victory: Arapahoe and Jefferson.
While Republicans have ceded ground in those counties over the past decade, they currently hold 43.6 to 32.3 percent and 40.7 to 32.1 percent respective leads over Democrats with a little over a week remaining to get out the vote.
Between 2010 and 2014, GOP ground efforts have resulted in a percentage increase in each of the 12 counties that outpaces Democratic turnout and explains the expanded partisan ballot advantage. For example, turnout in Arapahoe and Jefferson counties has increased by 27 percent and 34 percent for Democrats, while Republicans have registered 46 percent and 48 percent more ballots, respectively than their 2010 showing.
But Republicans should not feel overconfident. Despite a slightly smaller overall turnout, unaffiliateds in Denver and Boulder counties likely to be targeted by both parties but especially by Democrats eager to run up support in allied areas have seen a huge surge in non-partisan ballot returns. More than twice the number of Denver unaffiliated voters have already dropped off or mailed their ballots, with a 62 percent increase in Boulder county.
Both parties know that partisan voting trends in Colorado will ultimately be a side issue to how many unaffiliated voters turnout and which way they lean in 2014, just as they did in 2010 when strong Republican winds and a Tea Party tide lifted GOP efforts. Democrats hope their vaunted “Colorado Model” and advanced GOTV technology and human infrastructure will once again provide a breaker against similar winds this cycle.