One underreported aspect of the upcoming Presidential election here in Colorado is the impact of the Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act. This law was enacted in 2013, so it’s not exactly new, but this is the first time that a Presidential election will be taking place since the law took effect. A short explanation of what changed can be found here, but the most important change for candidates and campaigns to consider is clear: All active voters will receive a ballot in the mail, Inactive voters will not receive a ballot, and the “Inactive – Failed to Vote” status has been eliminated. Before 2013, voters were flagged as Inactive by their County Clerk if they failed to vote in an election and then failed to respond to a postcard from their clerk in order to verify their active voter status. Now, a voter only becomes Inactive if their official election mail is returned to the County Clerk by the USPS.
What this means is that the Inactive voter flag is something quite different than it used to be. Before, Inactive voters might still be just as likely to vote as their Active counterparts. They had to be included in most voter contact efforts, because the only thing that set them apart from Active voters was that they had failed to vote in the last election. Now, an Inactive voter is far less likely to vote than an Active voter, because only Active voters will be receiving a ballot in the mail. As an example, we can look at percentage of Inactive voters that cast a ballot in the 2014 General Election (the election most comparable to the 2016 General Election that was conducted after the adoption of the Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act). On June 1st, 2014, there were a total of 651,697 Inactive voters registered in Colorado. Among those voters, only 45,293 voted in the 2014 General Election – a turnout rate of 7%. While that rate may end up being higher in 2016 due to an increased interest in the Presidential election, it is clear that Inactive voters can hardly be considered as likely voters.
This raises the question – exactly who are these Inactive voters? Are there certain demographic groups that are more likely to be Inactive? In short, yes, there are. The table below shows demographics of Inactive voters, and they are disproportionately younger – nearly 2/3 are below the age of 45 – and that nearly half of them are Unaffiliated voters.
Inactive Voters in Colorado as of July 1st, 2016
These findings have interesting implications when analyzing voter registration trends in Colorado. If you are looking at all roughly 3.6 million registered voters, over 35% are unaffiliated, 32% are Democrats, and 31% are Republicans, with the remaining 2% dispersed among minor parties. However, because such a large number of unaffiliated voters are Inactive, if we look only at Active voters – who, again, are the only voters definitely receiving a ballot in the mail in October – the breakdown by party affiliation is 33% unaffiliated, 33% Republican and 33% Democrat. The rise in unaffiliated voter registration does not seem quite as significant in that light.
For candidates and campaigns, the lesson is clear – focus your efforts specifically on Active voters. For voters, the lesson is just as clear – if you want to vote, get Active!