Colorado’s voter turnout ranks near top for third presidential election running

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams addresses a rally for National Voter Registration Day on Sept. 22, 2015, in Denver's Civic Center Park. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams addresses a rally for National Voter Registration Day on Sept. 22, 2015, in Denver’s Civic Center Park. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)

Colorado again landed among the top-performing states measured by voter turnout in last year’s election, according to a national report released Thursday.

For the third election cycle running — and the third presidential cycle in a row — Colorado ranked among the states with the highest turnout, coming in fourth place with 72.1 percent turnout. With 74.8 percent turnout, Minnesota came in first — as it has for eight of the last nine presidential elections — followed by Maine’s 72.8 percent and New Hampshire’s 72.5 percent. Wisconsin ran in fifth place at 70.5 percent, ahead of Iowa’s 69 percent.

The report, “America Goes to the Polls,” is a joint project of Nonprofit VOTE and the U.S. Elections Project.

Colorado ranked third-best in the country in each of the two previous general elections, 2012 and 2014.

“Being a battleground state always helps, of course, but that’s not enough,” said Secretary of State Wayne Williams in a statement celebrating the state’s ranking. “Colorado’s trust in the people and our policies and practices also drive up turnout.”

Nationally, 60.2 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, up slightly from 58.6 percent in 2012, the last presidential election.

“Colorado is really in an elite group of the top five states,” said George Pillsbury, senior consultant for Nonprofit VOTE and the author of the report. “It really shows what’s possible if the state enacts policies that help promote voter participation, as well as develop a strong civic culture of encouraging voter turnout.”

The report’s authors said that two factors — being able to fix registration issues the same day as voting and living in a battleground state — had the highest correlation with high voter participation.

The first factor includes same-day voter registration, which Colorado and the other five highest-ranking states all offer. In fact, the report says, states with same-day registration performed 7 points higher than states without it, a pattern that’s been consistent since states started allowing it in the 1970s.

In addition, five of the six highest turnout states were battlegrounds — all but Maine — and saw turnout boosted as a result, the authors say. The presidential campaigns spent 95 percent of their advertising budgets and a full 99 percent of their time visiting in the 14 battleground states, which included Colorado.

For the third consecutive presidential election, the five states with the worst turnout were Hawaii, West Virginia, Texas, Tennessee and Arkansas — none battleground states and all states that cut off the ability to register or update registration weeks before Election Day.

Also notable, the reports says, were states with all-mail balloting — Colorado, Oregon and Washington — ranking fourth, eighth and 12th, respectively, with an average turnout of 68 percent.

The lack of competition in most congressional races might have pushed down turnout some places, the study suggests, noting that across the country there were fewer competitive districts — defined as contests decided by 10 points or less between the top two candidates — than at any time at least the last 30 years. According to a political rating source, there were just 37 of the nation’s 435 congressional seats up for grabs this year, but in the end even fewer, 33, turned out at all close.

Colorado had one of them — the race between U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, an Aurora Republican, and his Democratic challenger, former Senate President Morgan Carroll, who was elected Saturday to chair the state Democratic Party. Coffman won by 8.3 percent over Carroll, with Libertarian nominee Norm Olsen scoring 5 percent and Green Party candidate Robert Lee Worthey garnering 1.5 percent.

Colorado has ranked high in recent elections but hasn’t done poorly in any of the past six presidential and mid-term cycles studied by Nonprofit VOTE and the U.S. Elections Project. One trend: turnout everywhere has gone up, although only minimally for the poorest-performing states.

Maine led the nation in 2014 with 58.5 percent turnout among eligible voters, followed by Wisconsin at 56.8 pecent and Colorado with 54.5 percent. The election before that, in 2012, Minnesota was in its customary top spot, ahead of Wisconsin and Colorado. In 2010, Colorado ranked ninth in turnout percentage, behind Maine, Minnesota, Washington, South Dakota, Oregon, Wisconsin, Alaska and Iowa.

With its hard-fought battleground status and a close U.S. Senate race, Colorado came in fifth in 2008 among all states, behind Minnesota, Wisconsin, Maine and New Hampshire. Looking a bit futher back, to 2006, the first year the organization compiled a nationwide report, Colorado ranked in 13th place with 49 percent turnout.

ernest@coloradostatesman.com

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