Hickenlooper Defeats Incumbent in Colorado Senate Race

An elections judge checks ballots at Denver’s processing center on Nov. 3. (Courthouse News photo / Amanda Pampuro)

DENVER (CN) — With 91% of 3.1 million votes tallied, Colorado voters aimed a blue tide toward Washington, flipping the election’s first Senate seat in favor of former Governor John Hickenlooper with an 11-point lead over incumbent Republican Senator Cory Gardner.

Fifty-six percent of voters, or 1.6 million, also supported giving the states nine electoral votes to Democratic challenger Joe Biden over President Donald Trump.

“Tonight your message has been loud and clear that it’s time to put the poisonous politics behind us and come together to move forward,” Hickenlooper said in his victory speech, which sent a message of unity, economic growth and equity.

“Regardless of what party ends up controlling the Senate, I want you to know that I will work with anyone and everyone to help Coloradans. We’ve had enough leaders in Washington who think its their job to represent Red America or Blue America, Red Colorado or Blue Colorado, but I’ve always thought it was my job to represent all of Colorado,” Hickenlooper said. “I want to say to everyone who voted for Gardner, I will be your senator as well.”

As it stands, former Governor and Democrat John Hickenlooper also holds a 12-point lead over incumbent Republican Cory Gardner in the U.S. Senate race. Named the most vulnerable senator in Congress, Gardner’s defeat is key to the Democratic Party’s plan to flip control of the Senate.

A Democrat, two-term mayor of Denver and two-term governor of Colorado, Hickenlooper ended a run for the White House last year in time to pivot for a shot at Gardner’s Senate seat. With a background in geology, brewing and business, Hickenlooper was recruited to run last year by 314 Action, a pro-science political action committee based in Washington.

Before the night is over, Colorado will have reported 70 to 80% of the 3.1 million ballots received. About 290,000 more Coloradans voted this year compared to 2016. Over the last two weeks, 1,100 volunteers and election workers processed more than 377,798 ballots come into Denver alone.

Comparatively in 2016, Denver processed 342,023 ballots. Eight percent of Denver voters in 2016 cast ballots in person, while 20% mailed their ballots and 80% used ballot drop boxes. This year, 94% of voters statewide used remote options.

Colorado supported Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in both the 2016 and the 2020 Democratic primary before pivoting to instruct electors to vote for Hilary Clinton in the 2016 general election.

Within an hour, a single election judge can count 15,000 ballots — once they’ve been verified, opened, flattened and imprinted. Preparing the ballots takes the longest with up to 600 envelopes opened and 250 flattened per hour per judge.

In the verification room, Ballot Operations Coordinator Stu Clubb said he discovered two ballots cast after the voters had died — clear red flags to send on to the District Attorney’s office for investigation. Other ballots await curing and signature verification.

While much of the process is automated, bipartisan teams double check signature mismatches and other discrepancies.

The Secretary of State’s office estimates it will have counted 70 to 80% of ballots by the end of the night though results won’t be certified until Nov. 30, following post-election audits and final ballot counts.

“In Colorado, county clerks process ballots prior to Election Day, which enables a high percentage of results to be reported on Election Night. But Election Night results are never final results,” said Secretary Jena Griswold in a statement.  “In the days after Election Day, military and overseas voters return their ballots, signature discrepancies can be fixed, and a risk-limiting audit is conducted to determine statistical confidence in the results.  Like any election, there is quite a bit of activity after Election Day.”

As of 7 p.m., the state reported receiving 3.1 million ballots, including 3 million ballots received remotely and 183,781 cast in person. Compared to previous years, the number of unaffiliated voters spiked 25%, alongside a slight increase in Democratic turnout and a 5% decrease in Republican votes.

In the midst of a record-breaking election, Colorado is also reporting its highest rates of positive tests for Covid-19 to date. More than 2,000 people tested positive each day for the last five days. Since March, 113,000 Coloradans have tested positive for Covid-19, a disease which has killed 2,320 Coloradans and is the third leading cause of death in the nation.

To prevent the spread of Covid-19, Denver added polling sites and spread out stations. Poll volunteers sanitized stations and worse face masks.

Early vote counts indicated slight leads in support for Colorado joining the popular vote pact and supporting wolf reintroduction in the southern Rocky Mountains.

Alton Dillard, communications manager for Denver Clerk and Recorder/Denver Elections Division said the reason Colorado is experiencing high voter turnout is simple.

“We make it easy for people to vote,” he said. “The fact that it is Votercentric, safe, secure, transparent and data driven.”

The system brought out first-time voters and lifelong voters alike.

“I felt like it was a civic duty, like I just needed to come out and vote so I’m here,” said Manny Moya, a Denver Democrat who voted for the first time. “I’m one of those who finally after 32 years of life, I’m voting. It feels good, I feel like I did something important.”

Kenneth Crowley, a tall middle-aged man, laughed through his bright blue surgical mask when asked what brought him out to vote.

“It’s my right. I’ve been voting since I was 18, I never missed a national election or a local election. I believe in democracy, I believe in exercising my right,” Crowley said. While he declined to say how he voted in the Senate race, he said it was easy for him to pick the candidate with “more of a presence in our community.”

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