SUMMIT COUNTY - Local voters turned out in droves for Tuesday's primary elections, with far more participants than in recent years. In all, 2,215 voters cast ballots in this week's primaries, compared with 1,448 in 2008, and 280 in 2006.
"I think what really helped the numbers were the permanent mail-in voters," Summit County Clerk Kathy Neel said. "That really increased our numbers a lot. It's so easy to vote if a ballot just shows up at your house."
Even with the mail-in option, though, Neel said polling locations were surprisingly busy too.
High-profile U.S. Senate primary races on both the Republican and Democratic ballots undoubtedly helped drive the high turnout. The only contested race on the 2008 primary ballot was a three-way contest among Democratic congressional candidates Jared Polis, Joan Fitz-Gerald and Will Shafroth. In 2006, the only lure to the primary polls was a Republican race for state Senate District 16.
In this year's primaries, the preferences of Summit voters almost exactly matched the overall statewide results. Every candidate who won at the state level won in Summit, and by similar margins. Michael Bennet won the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate with 54.7 percent of the statewide vote. He won in Summit with 54.2 percent. On the Republican side, Ken Buck won with 51.6 percent of the state vote and received 50.1 percent of the Summit vote.
Former state Sen. Tom Glass, a Democrat who is still active in the state's political circles, said the similarities between Summit's results and those of the state aren't surprising, since the local political makeup isn't terribly different from that of the state as a whole.
As of July 1, Summit County had 5,136 registered Democrats and 4,331 registered Republicans. Statewide, there were 817,458 Democrats and 855,667 Republicans.
One thing Glass did find notable, though, was strong Republican voter participation, relative to Democrats'. In the U.S. Senate primary races, 407,110 Republicans cast ballots, while 338,537 Democrats did so - a difference of almost 67,000 voters.
"Republicans are angrier than Democrats - that's really what it is," Glass said. "Democrats are, in general, happy with their U.S. senator, and they're not as angry as Republicans right now."
In Summit, that trend didn't exactly materialize: 1,167 local Dems weighed in on the Bennet-Romanoff race, while 1,005 Republicans showed up to choose between Norton and Buck. Still, Glass said, that's a smaller difference than he would have expected.
Nevertheless, Summit County Democrats co-chair Lucinda Burns said she's pleased with the amount of excitement and activity she's seeing from local Dems. As evidence, she noted Democratic county commissioner candidate Dan Gibbs and gubernatorial candidate John Hickenlooper each received more than 1,000 votes.
"People went to the polls for them even though they didn't have any opponents," Burns said. "I think that bodes well for the Democrats going into the general elections. There's great enthusiasm for getting out the vote."
In Glass's view, one of the most interesting take-aways from Tuesday's primaries is that Republicans voted against the establishment candidates in all statewide races. Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes, who has never held political office, edged out Scott McInnis, who has been on the Colorado political scene for decades as both a federal and a state legislator. Ken Buck and Walker Stapleton beat better-known Republicans in the U.S. Senate and Colorado treasurer primaries, respectively.
"That's unusual for Republicans. The establishment almost always wins in Republican races, and I think it shows the influence of the Tea Party. Republicans want change too, but it remains to be seen whether the Tea Party can capture the center," Glass said.
Some have characterized Democrats' choice of Bennet over Andrew Romanoff as a vote for the establishment, but Burns of the local Dems doesn't see it that way.
"We had one incumbent, but we had two really experienced and highly skilled candidates. A lot was made of Andrew Romanoff being an outsider, but I'm not sure Colorado voters viewed him that way. He's worked hard on behalf of Colorado for a lot of years, and we'd like to see him continue to do so," Burns said.
SDN reporter Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-4630 or firstname.lastname@example.org.