#13. Lessons from Colorado’s Voting System

Colorado boasts “the highest percentage of eligible citizens registered to vote,” and its voter participation rates are “often the first or second for the entire nation,” Colorado Secretary…

Colorado boasts “the highest percentage of eligible citizens registered to vote,” and its voter participation rates are “often the first or second for the entire nation,” Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold told Democracy Now! in a November 2019 interview. The state’s voting measures include same-day voter registration, automatic registration with driver’s license services, the extension of voting rights to people on parole, and allowances for some seventeen-year-olds to vote in primary elections. As a result, Amy Goodman reported, Colorado is “considered an example for states needing to expand voter access at a time when Republican legislatures and statehouses across the country are attempting to suppress the vote.”

Colorado’s mail-in voting system was established “with bipartisan support” in 2013, Griswold explained. “Republican county clerks pushed [for] these reforms,” in part because the mail-in system is more efficient and less expensive than in-person voting. The mail-in voting system also supports the state’s commitment “to make sure that every eligible Coloradan’s voice is heard,” Griswold told Democracy Now! Although every registered, eligible voter receives a mail-in ballot, people can vote in person if they prefer to do so.

In 2019 the Colorado legislature passed the Colorado Votes Act—which added polling places and mail-in drop boxes throughout the state, including on the campuses of public universities and, with tribal leadership authorization, on tribal lands—and the Restore Voting Rights Parolees law, which enfranchised nearly 11,500 Coloradans on parole.

Colorado’s voting reforms “shine in stark contrast to the voter suppression we see across this country,” Secretary of State Griswold told Democracy Now!

The COVID-19 pandemic has made mail-in voting a hot topic, especially since President Trump and other Republicans have expressed opposition to it on the spurious grounds that voting by mail is prone to fraud. Without endorsing that stance, the New York Times has reported skeptically on mail-in voting. For instance, an April 2020 article noted that “many, if not most, states would face daunting financial, logistical and personnel challenges to making mail balloting the norm.”

The Washington Post featured an opinion piece by former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, advocating for the nation to adopt a mail-in voting system modeled after Colorado’s. The nation “can’t afford a repeat in November” of the “election chaos” experienced by Wisconsin voters in April, after the state’s Republican legislators and Supreme Court forced voters and poll workers “to risk covid-19 infection to participate in American democracy,” Hickenlooper wrote. The experience of Colorado, along with Washington and Oregon, which also use mail-in voting, “has laid the groundwork for just this moment, when mail-in voting in a national election could be vital to protecting Americans’ health—and the health of our democracy.” Responding to concerns of fraud, Hickenlooper touted Colorado’s use of “rigorous risk-limiting audits” and a centralized database to verify voters’ signatures, as well as perhaps the fundamental advantage of mailed ballots—“paper can’t be hacked,” he wrote. But beyond this opinion piece, the Washington Post—like other establishment media outlets—has not reported on Colorado’s example as a model of expanding voter access and making elections more democratic.


Amy Goodman and Juan González, interview with Jena Griswold, “Colorado Has One of the Highest Voter Turnouts in the Country. Here’s How They Did It,” Democracy Now!, November 5, 2019, https://www.democracynow.org/2019/11/5/colorado_mail_in_voting_voter_turnout.

Student Evaluator: Kenzie Parker (Sonoma State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Peter Phillips (Sonoma State University)

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