2020 Election, Elections, Featured, Original Report, Sherrie Peif, Weld County

Colorado clerks bracing for election day in-person rush; Republicans expect last-minute voting surge

GREELEY — With the Tuesday deadline closing in, those close to the election are wondering where all the Republican ballots are and what in-person voting may look like on the final day to cast a ballot.

Democrats are currently leading at the ballot box in Colorado, which some say has to do with COVID-19 and a push for early voting that is primarily led by Democrats, with Republicans waiting until the last minute to cast their ballots based on lack of trust for the media, mail delivery or the mail-in voting process.

According to Magellan Strategies, a public opinion and research firm based in Louisville, Democrats (887,908 votes cast) lead Republicans (765,877) in the count as of Monday afternoon by just more than 122,000 votes. However, unaffiliated voters have overall command with more than 1 million votes cast but representing just 66 percent of the active voters in that block.

Colorado has had mail-in elections for years; however, this year, those who make their living off of elections, and volunteers close to the candidates say they have mixed emotions about what Republican turnout will look like when the last ballot is counted.

David Flaherty, who operates Magellan Strategies, said past results are that Democrats usually have a last-minute surge of voters that take their candidates over the top or at least narrow a large lead.

“The best example of that was in 2014 when people went to bed thinking Cory Gardner had won by 6 or 7 points,” Flaherty said. “When they woke up that lead had narrowed to 1 point.”

Even this year, most of the usual demographics, such as by age groups and gender, are tracking past presidential and mid-term elections; however, one data-point that has Flaherty excited to see the final outcome of is the number of Republican ballots turned in to this point, and to whether there will be a surge of Republican voters lining up to cast their ballots on election day.

“This is extremely rare and unique from our perspective,” Flaherty said. “Usually it’s the unaffiliated and families 44 and younger that cast late ballots.”

At the end of the day Nov. 2, the Secretary of State’s Office reported 2,573,699 total ballots had been returned. Of that number, 862,804 (76% of active) are registered Democrats; 728,005 (71% of active) are registered Republicans and 948,881 (62% of active) are unaffiliated. The remaining ballots are cast among several other minor party affiliations.

Monday morning Flaherty said the demographics of those voting in person is like nothing he has ever seen. With two days remaining, 80,000 Coloradans had already voted in person. Of that 42 percent were Republicans, 37 percent were unaffiliated, and just 19 percent were Democrats. By age, 18- to 34-year-olds accounted for 33 percent, but just 12 percent were made up of those 65 and over.

It’s those numbers that lead Flaherty to think there might be a surge of Republican, in-person voting on election day.

“Obviously, the wrinkle this year is the president has been discouraging his voters not to vote by mail because he believes their ballots will be tinkered with,” Flaherty said. “With this big democratic surge of voters, does that mean that less voting by Democrats will occur in the final day and will it be demographically different?”

Although Republicans lead the voter turnout in Weld County — Republicans 44,440, unaffiliated 41,714 and Democrats 28,045 — Will Sander, Chairman of the Weld County Republicans, said he too believes there is much more to come.

“I do see a huge amount of enthusiasm out there as evidenced by things like the MAGA Drag in Denver Sunday,” Sander said. “That was promoted only over social media and 14,000 people showed up.

“There are a lot of people out there that are going to crawl over broken glass to vote on both sides, but Republicans don’t trust putting their vote in the mail, and they are going to come out to the polls (Tuesday).”

But while an 11th-hour surge is expected and needed, Sander is concerned about long lines at polling places. He hopes that will not discourage people from voting when they realize they may have to wait. Sander would like to see people fill out the ballot they received in the mail and drop it in one of them any secured boxes located around the county.

“I have been involved in politics and elections well over half my life, and I have never seen anything like 2020 with the concerns about ballot security across the country and in Colorado,” Sander said. “With COVID thrown into the mix it adds a whole other layer of complexity.”

Carly Koppes

Weld County Clerk and Recorder Carly Koppes agreed COVID has changed some things, but she stressed everyone who gets in line by 7 p.m. will get to vote, while at the same time encouraging voters not to wait until the last minute.

About 60 percent of Weld’s more than 200,000 active voters had been returned by Monday. Koppes said in 2016, more than 90 percent of active voters casted a ballot, so she is expecting a wave of last-minute voting.

“We try to prepare for every type of scenario,” Koppes said. “And we are prepared for high in-person turn out tomorrow.”

Koppes also urged voters to use the drop boxes, saying they are as secure as in-person voting and promising all ballots will get counted; however, if more than 20,000 are cast on election day (more than 70,000 active-voter ballots in Weld were unreturned as of Monday) those are unlikely to make it into the announced returns Tuesday.

“My confidence is very high,” Koppes said about the security of the boxes. “My job is to count every single ballot we receive. Our 24-hour boxes are extremely secure. They are tested against all the elements and under video surveillance.”

Ultimately, if in-person voting is the direction a large percentage of voters take this year, Koppes said they will be accommodated, although lines may look unusually long because of the 6-foot social distancing requirement.

“Don’t forget, federal law requires employers to let employees off to vote, so I would say, ‘don’t wait until 5 p.m. to get in line,’ ” Koppes said with a laugh. “But don’t get discouraged. We will get you in.”

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