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What We’re Watching in Colorado on Election Day 2020

It's safe to say that this election will be unlike any other. Here are six storylines we're watching as the results unfold.

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The day we’ve all been waiting for is finally here. No, the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t ended (far from it, actually), but soon the political ads will. Election Day is upon us—and boy oh boy are we feeling anxious. And for good reason! There’s a lot at stake here. Not only will we choose the next president on Tuesday, but locally, Coloradans will vote on a U.S. Senator, seven U.S. House seats, 65 Colorado House races, 18 Colorado Senate races, and a number of important ballot initiatives. 

It’s hard to keep track of it all. So we put together a list of some of the big stories that we’ll be keeping our eyes on throughout the night (and beyond). As always, the decisions we make this election will alter the course of Colorado’s history for years to come. So don’t take this responsibility lightly. Get out there and vote if you haven’t already, and check back with us on election night and in the days that follow for more news and analysis on election 2020. Godspeed, friends. 

Just how high will our voter turnout be?

Colorado has one of the most robust and efficient voting systems in the country. Every registered voter receives a ballot in the mail (as long as you’re registered before the deadline, which this year was October 26). You can fill it out and mail it back, drop it off at one of the 368 conveniently located drop boxes across the state, or scrap the mail ballot altogether and vote in person instead—early or on Election Day. Oh, and don’t forget you can register and vote at a polling place on Election Day, as well.

This year, turnout has already been record-breaking—and that’s saying something for a state that consistently ranks as having some of the highest voter turnout in the nation. As of Tuesday at 7 p.m., the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office reported that 3,145,626 ballots have been returned—that’s over 83 percent of all active voters. On Sunday, Colorado State Election Director Judd Choate wrote on Twitter that Colorado could be the first state ever to reach 80 percent voter turnout, and that feat has been reached and exceeded. That, of course, would be headline worthy. And just like in years past, we’ll be keeping our eyes on unaffiliated voters, who are the state’s largest voting block, making up just under 40 percent of the electorate. These independent voters are showing up in droves—1,205,462 have already returned their ballots, more than Dems (985,900) and Republicans (905,592). How might their votes shift the election’s outcome? It’s hard to say, but in years past, unaffiliated voters have skewed more Democratic, which doesn’t bode well for Republicans whose returns are already lagging behind. 

(MORE: No, Fraud Isn’t Rampant in Colorado’s Mail-In Voting System)

Who will be our next U.S. Senator?

Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, right, and Democratic former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper elbow bump after a debate, Friday, Oct. 9, 2020 in Denver. Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post via AP, Pool

Will we choose White Guy Number One or White Guy Number Two to represent Colorado in the U.S. Senate? In all seriousness, the Democratic primary was the most diverse in Colorado history—eight candidates were women, five were people of color, one was openly gay. But in the end, the Democratic Party had its way and former Governor John Hickenlooper secured the nomination and the opportunity to unseat incumbent (and Trump-approved) Senator Cory Gardner. 

While polling favors Hickenlooper to walk away with the win on Tuesday—a Morning Consult poll released Monday found Hick up by eight points—the divisive and bruising campaign waged between the candidates is likely to leave its mark. Still, a Hickenlooper win gets Democrats one step closer to regaining power in the U.S. Senate in 2021, so don’t underestimate the importance of this race’s outcome. 

How handily will Biden beat Trump in Colorado?

Let’s get real for a second: There is nary a chance that Donald Trump will carry Colorado on election night—Sunday’s “MAGA Drag the Interstate” rally be damned. After all, the state was the lone patch of blue in a sea of red in 2016, and Colorado Dems overwhelmingly chose far-left candidate Bernie Sanders in the March primary. Couple those facts with the slow return of Republican ballots, and the picture is pretty clear: Biden is poised to collect Colorado’s nine Electoral College votes. But, there could be a twist in the storyline here, if many Republicans break from the GOP and cast their ballots for Biden or refuse to vote for either. And perhaps after this year, pundits will stop claiming that Colorado leans blue and move it more squarely into Dem-friendly territory. 

Will Coloradans vote to reintroduce gray wolves?

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

Perhaps more than any other, this statewide proposition has captured voters’ attention, for many reasons. Wolves are beautiful and somewhat mystical creatures that used to roam our state freely until they were hunted nearly to the brink of extinction 75 years ago. The issue is also controversial. Not only has a wolf pack already been spotted in northwestern Colorado—raising questions about whether or not reintroduction is necessary—but the apex predators can have a substantial impact on a number of industries, including ranching and hunting. This will also be the first time that a state has voted to reintroduce the species, and some question whether voters in the metro area should have a say in an issue that could greatly affect other regions of the state. To further complicate matters, the Trump administration announced last week that it would remove gray wolves from the endangered species list, which could make it harder to reintroduce the animal if the proposition passes. 

Will Colorado tighten its abortion restrictions?

Colorado has some of the most relaxed abortion laws in the nation, as one of only seven states that allows the procedure to occur at any point in a pregnancy. Proposition 115 would tighten these restrictions to forbid abortions after 22 weeks of gestation, unless the life of the mother is at stake. Proponents of the measure claim that this is the point that a fetus is viable (an assertion that is questionable and emotionally fraught). Opponents say that the proposition ignores the unique circumstances that some pregnant women face, including finding a fatal fetal diagnosis, and imposes an arbitrary deadline on when a family must make a life-altering decision. In general, abortions after 22 weeks of pregnancy are exceedingly rare. According to Colorado Department of Health and Environment data reported by the Colorado Sun, only 140 abortions after this point in gestation were reported in 2019. 

Proposition 115 is poised to be a tight race, although an October poll from Civiqs found it failing, 51 to 42 percent. The issue is attracting the most money of any of the initiatives on the ballot. According to the Denver Post, the Vote No on 115 campaign has raked in almost $6.5 million, while three committees supporting the measure have raised only $369,000. The issue gained even more attention after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September, as proponents for abortion access believe that Roe v. Wade is in danger now that conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett is on the Supreme Court. 

Will the election—and the days that follow—be peaceful?

Colorado election 2020
Plywood covers the windows of the Denver Election Division building in preparation for possible election night rioting on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020, in Denver. David Zalubowski / AP Photo

At the urging of city officials, businesses throughout downtown Denver boarded up their windows and doors over the weekend in anticipation of any unrest that could occur on Election Day (or beyond). Many stores are still reeling from the economic fallout of COVID-19, coupled with the damage done during the period of civil unrest over the summer following the murder of George Floyd. Police departments throughout the Front Range, as well as the FBI, are planning for protests to take place no matter the outcome, and are focusing on ensuring that any demonstrations remain peaceful. 

To add another layer to it all, Colorado’s cases of COVID-19 are still surging, so any large gathering would, technically, not be in compliance with Safer at Home orders. If you do feel the need to gather to protest or celebrate the election results, please remember to wear a mask, keep your distance, wash your hands, and in general, stay safe. 

Editor’s note, 11/3/20: This article has been updated with the most recent data from the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office.

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