Election Day 2020: Colorado Sees Record Voter Turnout

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Early voting at the Ball Arena in Denver On Monday. Nov. 2, 2020, the day before Election Day.

UPDATE: Early Tuesday afternoon numbers from the Secretary of State's office showed that 2,893,395 ballots have been returned, surpassing 2016 total state turnout of 2,855,257.

It’s the one metric that can put a smile on the face of every election official, no matter the party: turnout.

“Yes, turnout has been huge,” said Josh Zygielbaum, the Adams County Clerk and Recorder. He said that’s thanks in part to messaging, urging people to get out early, “and voters took it very seriously.” 

Through Monday afternoon, the latest figures available, 2.76 million voters had already cast a ballot, meaning Colorado will almost certainly eclipse the 2.86 million total votes cast in the presidential election four years ago.

The buzz among elections officials across Colorado this year has been the comparatively low Republican turnout so far. GOP voters tend to vote early, but President Donald Trump’s rhetoric, attacking the trustworthiness of mail ballot elections, might be pushing his supporters to vote in person and on Election Day.

Through Monday afternoon, Democrats had returned 114,048 more ballots than Republicans. Republicans are beginning to chip away at the Democratic lead a bit in recent days, according to an analysis by Magellan Strategies, a political firm based in Louisville. Unaffiliated voters have cast more ballots than registered voters from either major party.

Trump’s attacks on mail ballot systems like Colorado’s have limited early turnout for Republicans, said Merlin Klotz, the Republican Clerk and Recorder in Douglas County. Trump may have “encouraged Republicans to vote late, but they are coming in right now.”

Klotz said about 90 percent of all votes come in via drop boxes. He has 20 stationed around the county, and workers collect from them regularly throughout the day. In-person voting has been limited in Douglas County and across the state and, through Sunday, fewer than 2 percent of the votes statewide were cast at a voter service center. 

Whether Republicans will turn out en masse on Election Day and change the dynamic is a wildcard. 

“It's one of the big questions that we won't know until after the election,” said David Flaherty, with Magellan Strategies.

He said, however, that the data right now suggests, “Democrats are clearly energized.”

Republicans are hoping for an election day surge, but admit it doesn’t look good right now.

“I don't think it's going to be a great night for Republicans in Colorado,” acknowledged Scott Gessler, the former Republican Secretary of State. “We're facing a tough, tough environment.”

Republican registration in Colorado has trended down steadily over the years as that of Democrats has risen — and unaffiliated registration even more so.

Unaffiliated voters have returned 1,032,471 ballots so far, and in the 2018 election, unaffiliated voters broke overwhelmingly for Democrats.

Gessler said Republicans were still energized by the election and he expressed some hope that they will turn out in large numbers.

“I don't think anyone's giving up nor should they,” said Gessler, noting the many important races on the ballot.

If Coloradans continue to turn out in big numbers through Election Day, more records could fall, according to Judd Choate with the Secretary of State’s office.

Turnout stood at 2,691,312 through 4 p.m. Monday afternoon. To get to 80 percent turnout of eligible voters would require more than 630,000 voters to cast their ballot by the end of the day.

To find your nearest polling place, go to www.GoVoteColorado.gov and enter your address at the link to find your polling location or nearest dropbox. You can also contact your county elections clerk.

The state’s election clerks expressed confidence that a surge of Election Day activity won’t overwhelm the system. The combination of people who choose to register to vote for the first time on Election Day and the burden of checking registrations and signatures against the state’s SCORE database has led to breakdowns of that system in the past. The number of votes the state has already banked may prevent that this year.

“The good news is, even if there is a heavier Republican turnout on Tuesday, the volume should be balanced out by the number of Democrats who voted early,” said Zygielbaum in Adams County. “So it shouldn't impact us too terribly much.”

The rush of early votes in this election is great from an election administrator standpoint since many ballots can be processed well before polls close at 7 p.m., said Zygielbaum. Meaning even more votes will be included in the first announcement of results.

That could allow for an early night in Colorado, with all but the closest of races likely decided before the Election Day is over.