• By Lynn Bartels

    DaVita CEO Kent Thiry is leading an effort for open primary elections in Colorado.<!--IPTC: Davita CEO Kent Thiry spoke to the Denver Post Thursday night,

    DaVita CEO Kent Thiry is leading an effort for open primary elections in Colorado. (Karl Gehring, Denver Post file)

    A powerful chief executive who championed election reform in California and a politically disillusioned private eye are looking to upend the way elections are conducted in Colorado.

    The changes could create unfamiliar scenarios: Republicans and Democrats voting in each other’s primaries or unaffiliated voters automatically participating in the primaries without changing their registration. Or even replacing the primary with a preliminary election where the top two vote- getters among a pool of candidates advance to the general election, even if that means both candidates are from the same party.

    At least two people are leading discussions about changing Colorado’s elections. Kent Thiry of Cherry Hills Village is president and chief executive of DaVita, a Denver-based kidney dialysis company. Private investigator Ryan Ross of Denver is director of the Coalition for a New Colorado Election System.

    Both believe the current system is controlled by “partisan purists.”

    Thiry shared few details about his efforts, but Ross outlined the coalition’s proposed 2014 ballot initiative earlier this year in an online invitation to an election workshop. It calls for a complete overhaul of the state’s election system.

    “The ballot question would be: Should Colorado adopt a two-stage election system in which every registered voter can vote in each stage for any candidate on the ballot in their voting district?” Ross said in the invite.

    He and Thiry can expect major opposition from traditional party activists.

    Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, said letting voters who aren’t Republicans determine the outcome of a Republican primary is like letting a “non-Catholic pick the pope.”

    "If you want a say in who our party chooses as a candidate, you need to joinus in order to have your voice heard." Ryan Call, Colorado Republican Party

    “If you want a say in who our party chooses as a candidate, you need to join us in order to have your voice heard.” Ryan Call, Colorado Republican Party chairman (Karl Gehring, Denver Post file)

    Rick Palacio, chairman of the Colorado Democratic Party, said he’s for more voter participation, which is why he supported an elections bill that now allows same-day voter registration, but he doesn’t want Democrats and Republicans voting in each other’s primaries.

    “That’s ripe for shenanigans,” he said.

    “Hate, hate, hate the idea,” said Colorado Republican Party chairman Ryan Call. “If you want a say in who our party chooses as a candidate, you need to join us in order to have your voice heard.”

    Colorado operates a semi-closed primary, where unaffiliated voters may choose to affiliate and vote in that party’s primary, while voters registered with a party may only vote in that party’s primary. In the general election, unaffiliated voters do not have to choose a party to be able to vote, and those who are members of a certain party can vote for any candidate on the ballot.

    Unaffiliated voters comprise 34 percent of active voters in Colorado, with Republicans at 33 percent and Democrats 32 percent, according to the secretary of state’s office.

    “Most people think that the more people that are allowed to vote in elections, the healthier our democracy will be — and having over a third of our voters precluded from voting in primaries is just not right,” Thiry said in an e-mail.

    Thiry, who is registered unaffiliated, called himself a “passionate supporter of election reform.”


    “That’s ripe for shenanigans.” Rick Palacio, Colorado Democratic Party chairman, on a proposal for open primaries in state elections (Denver Post file photo)

    He advocated for open primaries in an opinion piece in The Denver Post in April. And he said when he lived in California, he worked on a successful redistricting initiative in 2008 that took politicians out of the process of drawing new legislative boundaries and handed it over to a citizen commission.

    Thiry declined to say what changes he is proposing, the timeline he is pushing or the support he has lined up, except to say, “I am currently talking about different forms of election reform with a lot of Colorado leaders across the entire political spectrum.”

    Thiry spokesman Curtis Hubbard pointed to the 2010 primary. A new movement called the Tea Party was growing, Republicans faced hotly contested races for U.S. Senate, governor and treasurer, and Democrats had their own Senate battle under way. And while the turnout set new records, the actual number of voters who participated was dismal, he said.

    “When record turnout for a primary election involves less than a third of active Colorado voters, it’s not surprising that many groups and individuals would be exploring ways to increase participation.” Hubbard said.

    Ross also declined to name members of the coalition he is forming. He said he and Thiry have exchanged e-mails but are not working together.

    Ross said his coalition’s proposal, if adopted, would mean new procedures for primary and general elections, including how candidates get on the ballot and how those ballots are counted for presidential, congressional, statewide and legislative races.

    “It would do more to revitalize democracy than any election system adopted in any state in the country in the past century,” he said.

    Ross is so frustrated with the current election system — which he said gives “power to rigid ideologues way out of proportion to their numbers” — that he hasn’t been a registered voter for years.

    “I’m perfectly positioned to help spearhead the drive for a new election system,” he said, “because the overwhelming majority of those who have been active in the political arena have been so as either a Democrat or a Republican.”

    Lynn Bartels: 303-954-5327, lbartels@denverpost.com or twitter.com/lynn_bartels

    Voting elsewhere

    Rules on primary voting vary from state to state:

    California and Washington: All candidates, regardless of party affiliation, are on the same ballot. The top two vote-getters then face off in the general election.

    Louisiana: Uses a variation of the “top-two” system, but goes to a runoff only if a candidate fails to win more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round.

    Montana: No party affiliation required at registration. Every voter has a choice of which ballot to use for the primary.

    Utah: Republicans allow only members of their party to vote in their primary; Democrats allow any registered voter.

    Wyoming: A voter may change his or her party affiliation on the day of the election.

    Source: FairVote.org

    Read more: Proposals underway to change how Coloradans elect candidates, vote – The Denver Post http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_24726292/proposals-underway-change-how-coloradans-elect-candidates-vote#ixzz2nZYwsktv 
    Read The Denver Post’s Terms of Use of its content: http://www.denverpost.com/termsofuse
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    Posted by Dana West @ 12:16 pm for Adams County Politics, Candidates, Colorado politics, Elections |

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