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As Midterms Approach, Colorado Stands Out in Expanding Access

While some states battle with voter restrictions, Colorado has worked to expand access to the ballot.

  • Jonathan Brater
October 14, 2014

The 2014 election is weeks away, and as has become the norm in recent years, a highly pitched battle is raging over the rules that will govern the ballot box. Twenty-two states enter the midterm elections with restrictions that were not in place four years ago, and voters in more than a dozen states could face restrictions for the first time in any major election. Meanwhile, ongoing litigation across the country means we still do not know exactly what the voting landscape will look like come November 4. But as much of the national attention focuses on new restrictions on the right to vote, it is also worth noting that many states have taken action to expand access to the ballot in recent years — none more so than Colorado.

In 2013, Colorado enacted the Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act, a comprehensive set of enfranchising reforms. Colorado voters now have the benefit of Election Day registration, which has been found to increase turnout by up to 7 percent. This move toward free, fair, and accessible elections is a marked contrast from North Carolina, which has acted to eliminate same-day registration as part of a broad crackdown on voting rights.

The law modernizes voting in Colorado in many ways. Election Day service centers will improve voter registration by making it portable, so voters who have moved will be able to cast a regular ballot from their new address. The new law ensures that if there is an error in a registration record, it will not become the voter’s problem — helping prevent wrongful disenfranchisement. And the legislation created a bipartisan voter modernization commission and removed a problematic “inactive-failed to vote” status that had put eligible electors at risk in past elections. In a hyper-partisan national environment surround voting laws, this bill was notable for its support from the Colorado County Clerks Association, composed of officials who actually run elections and come from both major parties.

Colorado’s legislature passed additional voter-friendly changes, enacting pre-registration for 16 and 17-year olds and improving ballot access for voters who speak a language other than English. In so doing, Colorado led the way along with 15 other states in expanding the franchise in 2013 and 2014.

Registered voters across the state will begin receiving ballots this week, under another change that instituted a vote-by-mail system similar to that used in Oregon. To be sure, as November 4 approaches, voters in Colorado will find the rules have changed. Unlike in other parts of the country, however, lawmakers have made it easier, not harder, to participate in democracy.