May 1, 2024 - News

One reason why Colorado's Legislature is so polarized

Colorado voter turnout rate, by election type
Reproduced from a Unite America Institute report; Chart: Axios Visuals

The final days of the legislative session are when Democrats flex their muscle as the majority party, fast-tracking bills and pushing through major legislation.

Yes, but: Just 13% of the voting-eligible population in Colorado effectively elected members of the state House of Representatives in the 2022 election, according to a new report from Unite America, which is pushing for an electoral overhaul.

  • A mere 18% picked the state's eight-member U.S. House delegation.

Friction point: Self-sorting by geography is to blame, researchers suggest. And the dynamic essentially makes the primary election, a low-turnout contest available to just one major party and unaffiliated voters, the decider — not the general election.

  • About 22% of voters have voted in primary elections since 2010, the report found.

What they're saying: "The reason it seems like our elected leaders don't represent us is that most of us don't actually elect them," Nick Troiano, Unite America executive director and author, said in a statement.

By the numbers: 84% of the 65 state House districts are dominated by one of the major parties and considered noncompetitive.

  • In the 2018 and 2020 state Senate elections, primaries picked 31 of the 35 seats. Of those, 25 had only a single candidate in the dominant party's primary.

Flashback: Colorado's Legislature ranked as the most polarized in the nation in 2017 based on the ideological views of lawmakers.

The big picture: The latest statistics help explain the dynamic at the Colorado and U.S. capitals, and underpin Unite America's push for election changes.

  • The organization is considering putting a measure on the ballot that would open primaries to all voters regardless of political affiliation and allow the top four candidates to advance to the general election.
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