Colorado: What to expect on election night

A ballot box in Denver, Colorado, on Sept. 20, 2020.
A ballot box in Denver, Colorado, on Sept. 20, 2020.(Cliffordsnow / Wikipedia / CC BY-SA 4.0)
Published: Nov. 4, 2022 at 10:31 AM MDT
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DENVER (AP) — Colorado has turned increasingly blue over the past decade, thanks in part to an influx of college-educated voters in the expanding Denver metropolitan area. Joe Biden decisively won the 2020 presidential election in the state, and Democrats control the governor’s seat and the Legislature.

Colorado’s top race this November features Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet’s quest for a third term against Republican Joe O’Dea, a construction firm owner and first-time candidate. O’Dea is testing whether a Republican can win a U.S. Senate race in Colorado by supporting some abortion rights.

Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, a wealthy tech entrepreneur and former congressman, seeks a second term against Heidi Ganahl, herself an entrepreneur who as a University of Colorado regent is the only Republican holding statewide office.

Most of Colorado’s seats in the U.S. House are viewed as safe for the incumbents, including GOP firebrand Rep. Lauren Boebert.

Attention has focused on a new seat, the 8th district, added following the 2020 Census. In that race, GOP state Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer, who once opposed all abortions but now says she believes in exceptions in cases where the mother’s life is endangered, faces Democratic state Rep. Yadira Caraveo, a pediatrician and defender of abortion rights. Latino voters comprise nearly 40% of the district, which stretches north of Denver.

Colorado’s ballot includes several tax and fiscal measures and a proposal to legalize adult therapeutic use of psilocybin and psilocin, psychoactive compounds in “magic mushrooms.”

Democrats hold a large majority in the state House and have a slight edge in the state Senate.

Here’s a look at what to expect:

ELECTION NIGHT

Polls close at 7 p.m. local time (9 p.m. ET), but most of Colorado votes by mail. Registered voters are automatically sent a ballot and once returned they can confirm via a state-run website that it’s been received by the county clerk’s office.

While voters can cast a ballot in person on Election Day, only a small number do. In the 2020 general election, nearly 100% of all ballots cast were sent by mail or delivered to drop boxes and voting centers.

Things happen quickly after the polls close. Because ballots have been flowing into country clerk offices for weeks — and are counted as they arrive — results from a huge chunk of the total vote are released within 90 minutes of polls closing.

HOW COLORADO VOTES

The key counties are along the Front Range, from Fort Collins south to Pueblo. It’s where most of the population is. Democrats dominate in Denver and Boulder counties; Republican run up their totals in El Paso, Douglas and Weld counties. For statewide Republican candidates to stay competitive, they have to limit their loss margins in Denver and try to win in the bellwether suburban counties such as Jefferson and Arapahoe. Democrats have done well there recently.

On the Western Slope, GOP candidates tend to do well in Mesa County, home of Grand Junction, as well as the sparsely populated Eastern Plains.

Colorado usually counts about 90 percent of ballots cast on election night. Mail ballots dropped off on Election Day, in drop boxes or at polling places, won’t be counted until Wednesday or Thursday. That could delay race calls in the most competitive races.

DECISION NOTES

The AP will count votes and declare winners in 110 contested elections in Colorado, including five statewide races and eight U.S. House races. In the 2020 general election, the AP first reported results at 9:02 p.m. ET and 90% of results at 11:30 a.m. ET on Thursday, Nov. 5.

The AP does not make projections or name apparent or likely winners. Only when the AP is fully confident a race has been won – defined most simply as the moment a trailing candidate no longer has a path to victory – will we make a call. Should a candidate declare victory – or offer a concession – before the AP calls a race, we will cover newsworthy developments in our reporting. In doing so, we will make clear that the AP has not yet declared a winner and explain the reason why we believe the race is too early or too close to call.

The AP may call a statewide or U.S. House race in which the margin between the top two candidates is 0.5% or less, if we determine the lead is too large for a recount to change the outcome. Colorado law provides for mandatory recounts if the gap between the candidates is less than or equal to 0.5% of the leader’s vote.

The AP will not call down-ballot races on election night if the margin between the top two candidates is less than 2% or if the leading candidate is within 2% of the 50% runoff threshold. The AP will revisit those races later in the week to confirm there aren’t enough outstanding votes left to count that could change the outcome.

Q: WHAT DID WE LEARN FROM THE PRIMARY?

A: Abortion and election security are particularly relevant in Colorado, as reflected in the Republican primaries in June, coming just days after the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade.

In the GOP Senate primary, O’Dea soundly defeated state Rep. Ron Hanks, who opposes abortion in all circumstances.

Republican Tina Peters, the conspiracy-theorist Mesa County elections clerk who’s been indicted on charges of tampering with voting equipment and posting data online, sought her party’s nomination to run Colorado’s elections as secretary of state. Republican primary voters overwhelmingly chose Pam Anderson, a former county clerk who previously led the state clerks’ association and defends the state’s mail-in elections system. Anderson is now positioned to challenge Democratic Secretary of State Jena Griswold, who’s helped lead the national fight against 2020 election deniers.

Q: WHAT’S CHANGED SINCE THE PANDEMIC ELECTION OF 2020?

A: Colorado has added ballot drop boxes throughout the state and a system for voters to track their ballots.

Q: WHAT DO TURNOUT AND ADVANCE VOTE LOOK LIKE?

A: Turnout has been trending up in Colorado, and it’s typically one of the highest turnout states in the country. In 2018 turnout was 58%; in 2020 it was 77%. Nearly all the vote is advance vote because essentially all voting is done by mail. Votes counted after Election Day trended very slightly more Republican in 2020, by about one half of one percentage point.

Q: WHAT HAPPENS AFTER TUESDAY?

A: Colorado law provides for mandatory recounts if the gap between the candidates is less than or equal to 0.5% of the leader’s vote. Candidates also can request recounts within 28 days of an election, but must pay for them.

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Check out https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections to learn more about the issues and factors at play in the 2022 midterm elections.

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