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Last-Minute Voters Trickle In as Colorado Counts 2.7 Million Early Ballots

Though the flow of people remained steady, no lines formed at Denver polling places all morning — likely because 75% of Colorado’s 3.7 million active voters had already cast their ballots in the weeks before.

DENVER (CN) — In the early hours of Election Day, volunteers counted 30 cars driving through a ballot drop-off station at the Hiawatha Davis Rec Center in Denver’s Park Hill Neighborhood. A dozen more voters trickled in to vote at polls spread out around the basketball court in efforts to prevent an Election Day-induced Covid-19 outbreak.

Though the flow of people remained steady, no lines formed all morning — likely because 75% of Colorado’s 3.7 million active voters had already cast their ballots in the weeks before. So despite the tumultuous year, many volunteers were relieved to find the scene boringly peaceful.

“We’re all feeling anxious, but clearly this day has been boring so far and we hope it will be peaceful all day,” said Mandela Mischler, a volunteer with Election Defenders, a nonpartisan group aimed at protecting voters from harassment. Across the street a quote from her namesake, Nelson Mandela, painted on the rec center echoed, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

Mischler said she remains concerned with toxic partisanship in her own life.

Volunteer elections judges straighten ballots at Denver’s processing center on Nov. 3. (Courthouse News photo / Amanda Pampuro)

“I’ve found it’s hard to have conversations across party lines, so I’ve been working to build relationships with people on the other side. It starts with a lot of listening,” she said through her floral cloth mask. “I have one close friend who will call me out on social media. He’s like, ‘Why are you painting all of us with that brush? That’s not fair,’ so I appreciate him calling me out even though I vehemently disagree with him on a lot of issues.”

While Colorado overwhelmingly supported Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in the primary, most polls favor Democratic nominee Joe Biden to win over President Donald Trump. By Morning Consult’s final pre-election count, Biden led Trump by 13 points in the purple state.

“We need a change from Trump. We need him out. He got in because a lot of people didn’t vote, so I voted this year,” said Dorothy Winselow, who was born and raised in Denver. She wore a black mask printed with social distancing instructions and black braids dipped in a sea of green. “Biden isn’t the perfect person, but he’s better than Trump.”

The question remains to be seen whether by proxy voters will also elect former Governor John Hickenlooper to replace incumbent Republican Senator Cory Gardner. Hickenlooper currently holds an 8-point edge in the polls over Gardner, who has been dubbed the most vulnerable senator in Congress, though Hickenlooper’s lead has narrowed over the last few months.

“I kind of like John Hickenlooper, I think he’ll be OK,” said Brian Titus, a liberal-leaning unaffiliated voter who recently moved to Denver. Between Biden and Trump, he said, “They were both awful, so I went with harm reduction.”

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

While early ballots poured in in record numbers, 11% of voters polled by the University of Colorado Boulder in October said they were still undecided on who to pick for both the presidential and Senate elections. The mix of unaffiliated voters make up the state’s largest political party, though the survey found an even split between which candidate the leaned toward.

As of Oct. 1, the Colorado Secretary of State’s office counted 997,786 Republicans, 1 million Democrats, and 1.5 million unaffiliated voters.

The state reported receiving 2.7 million ballots as of Monday, including 2.6 million ballots received remotely via mail and drop-off boxes. Only 101,071 cast their votes in person. Compared to previous years, the number of unaffiliated voters doubled, alongside hefty early voting increases for both Democrats and Republicans.

In addition to electing representatives, Coloradans are being asked to weigh in on joining the popular vote pact, banning late-term abortion and supporting the reintroduction of wolves in the southern Rocky Mountains.

“I wasn’t passionate about it, but I didn’t seen any reason to vote against bringing the wolves back if it’s good for the environment and they were here before,” Titus said of Proposition 114.

Denver Elections volunteers Emma Feeney, right and Izi Stoll drive golf carts to transport the last voters to the polls at 6:30 pm on Nov. 3. (Courthouse News photo / Amanda Pampuro)

Alton Dillard, communications manager for the 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. Colorado elections are “voter-centric, safe, secure, transparent and data-driven.”

This election 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 today. “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 in a pandemic.

Ballot Operations Coordinator Stu Clubb points out all of the polling sites and ballot drop-off boxes that will deliver one last batch of ballots after 7 p.m. on Nov. 3. (Courthouse News photo / Amanda Pampuro)

“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 easy for him the pick the candidate with “more of a presence in our community.”

The Colorado Secretary of State’s office estimates it will have counted 70 to 80% of ballots on election night. Results will be reported after 7 p.m. when the polls close, but they won’t be certified until Nov. 30, following post-election audits and final absentee ballot counts.

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