Election 2016: Colorado voters embrace open primary elections - Open Primaries
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Posted by jesse shayne on November 09, 2016 at 3:23 PM

Election 2016: Colorado voters embrace open primary elections

This article was written by Ed Sealover for the Denver Business Journal

From now on, Colorado will choose its major-party presidential candidates in primary elections, and all party primaries will be open to unaffiliated voters as well as party members.

At 10 p.m. MT, Proposition 107 — which revives the presidential primary in Colorado — was winning by nearly a 2-1 margin. The primary will replace the caucus system of picking candidate for the White House, under which only a limited number of Coloradans in both major parties chose to participate.

And the "yes" vote on Proposition 108 — which opens primaries for all elected offices to unaffiliated voters, who now make up the largest voting bloc in the state — was narrowly ahead, but 9News declared it a winner at about 10 p.m.

Though they were the last initiatives to qualify for the 2016 ballot, Propositions 107 and 108 drew a late surge of interest from the business community.

DaVita Inc. chairman and CEO Kent Thiry contributed $1.3 million of his personal funds to Let Colorado Vote, the effort to pass the two measures, and groups from Colorado Concern to the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce offered up major resources to try to push the two measures successfully across the finish line.

Thiry, who was celebrating Tuesday night at a Metro Denver Chamber election-watch event, said that despite his backing of 107 and 108, "I believe in initiatives very deeply, and Abraham [Lincoln] got it right when he talked about government of the people, by the people and for the people.”

It's "essential," said Thiry, that political moderates be represented equally with Democrats and Republicans in primaries.

Backers of the two measures said they hoped greater participation by of unaffiliated voters in primaries will blunt the power of the extreme factions of both parties because unaffiliated voters are more politically moderate than hard-core party members.

If more unaffiliated voters are allowed to participate in the primaries, backers argued, it might enable elected officials to agree on more compromises, instead of being too worried about what only the most liberal or most conservative elements of the party think.

Kelly Brough, president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, went so far as to say that she felt that two business-backed measures that failed in the state Legislature earlier this year — a construction-defects reform package and a plan to reclassify the hospital provider fee as an enterprise fund to generate more funding for transportation — might have gotten approval from lawmakers if they weren’t so worried about primary candidates from the extreme wings of their parties.

“No one expects business to care about those issues, but we believe that everybody should be able to vote," Brough said Tuesday.

At the chamber event, Gov. John Hickenlooper congratulated 107 and 108 supporters, saying he expects Colorado will get better candidates who won't be dictated by parties as a result.

But 107 and 108 also came at a time when the parties are fighting to take back control of their organizations, as unaffiliated voters had a big hand in other states in nominating or nearly nominating presidential candidates that don’t square on all issues with the party’s base.

And that motivation spurred an incredible feat of bipartisanship, as Republican Party Chairman Steve House and Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio met jointly with influential leaders to seek a “no” vote on the measures.

At a GOP gathering in the Denver Tech Center, House said that while "the state needs a presidential primary, I’d prefer it not be an open primary. But we knew it was likely to pass, so it’s not a big surprise.”

Like many elected officials, State Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley, opposed Propositions 107 and 108. Tuesday, he said he was worried about whether people would seek to dis-affiliate and then influence close primaries, possibly by picking weaker candidates for parties they generally oppose, as has happened in other states before.

“I don’t want unaffiliated telling me who my candidate should be," Cooke said. "If they want to be engaged, let them join a party.”

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