NewsCovering Colorado


As ranked-choice voting moves forward in Colorado, opposition mounts against proposal

Dueling initiatives for and against open primaries and ranked-choice voting could land in front of voters in November
US--Ranked Choice Voting-Explainer
Posted at 12:23 PM, May 22, 2024

EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. — A campaign to overhaul the way Colorado conducts its elections with open primaries and ranked-choice voting (RCV) is pushing ahead, appearing increasingly likely to make it to the November ballot.

At the same time, a grassroots campaign is collecting signatures to ban ranked-choice voting altogether and close Colorado’s primaries back to only partisan party voters.

Near the end of April, the state Title Board approved multiple variations of a measure that would enact RCV and open primaries for most statewide and federal offices in the Centennial State.

The Title Board ensures that every constitutional amendment and statutory proposal has a single subject and one distinct purpose.

Opponents have appealed the board’s ruling to the state Supreme Court, arguing it violates the single-subject rule.

Colorado Voters First, a political committeesupporting the campaign, submitted numerous versions of the measure to the State Title Board. Several were denied while others were approved.

The political committee has since pulled all but two of its titles. The remaining titles are statutory rather than constitutional amendments.

The remaining two, 188 and 310, are now pending Supreme Court action. The Colorado Voters First campaign is confident they’ll succeed and signature collection would then begin shortly after to make the November ballot.

They would both enact open primaries and RCV, but have slightly different title language.

States like Maine and Alaska already have some form of RCV. But after Alaskans elected Democrat Mary Peltola to Congress in 2022, an effort is already underway to repeal RCV later this year.

Peltola beat former Republican Governor Sarah Palin and became the first Alaskan Democrat elected to the House in half a century.

Meanwhile, voters in Nevada are appearing likely to approve a similar open primary and RCV measure in this year’s election after approving it once already in 2022. (Nevada law requires constitutional changes to be approved by voters twice). Like Colorado, Nevada has a plurality of unaffiliated voters.

And municipalities around the country and state, including Boulder, already use RCV.

Critics decry it as confusing and a death blow to not only the major parties but minor parties as well.


Open primaries in Colorado would place all candidates for an office like the U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, state legislature, governor, and attorney general on one ballot, regardless of party affiliation. Voters would be able to vote for any of the candidates, regardless of the voter’s party affiliation.

Colorado currently has a semi-open primary where unaffiliated voters may vote in either a Republican or Democratic primary, but not both. Opponents of the open primary idea often refer to it as a “jungle primary.”

The top four voter-getters in the primary would then move onto the general election where ranked-choice voting would take effect. Voters would be allowed, but not required, to rank their candidate choices from one to four. The winner of the general election must receive a majority of votes (50% +1).

If there is no majority winner after the first tabulation of votes, the last-place vote-getter is eliminated and the votes are tabulated. Those who selected the eliminated candidate would then have their second choice pick counted. This process repeats until one of the four candidates receives a majority.

A 2021 law passed by the Colorado Legislature that took effect in 2023 set the stage for cities to implement ranked-choice voting, meaning elections officials have already updated systems for the process.

Proponents argue that this method of voting encourages more compromise between candidates. Those who mudsling or take controversial stances are less likely to be ranked highly on ballots, making them less likely to win office.


Amber McReynolds is a former Denver elections official who helped implement mail ballots and the state’s first semi-open primary. She’s now working as an advocate for RCV and open primaries, helping the Colorado Voters First campaign.

“I look at this as another iteration in the success that Colorado has had to provide a fair process for all voters,” said McReynolds.

According to the latest data from the Colorado Secretary of State’s office, 48% of all registered voters in the state are unaffiliated compared to 26% registered as Democrats and 24% registered as Republicans.

At the county level, the differences can be even more stark. In El Paso County, 50% of voters are unaffiliated, and 43% in Pueblo County.

It’s these large and growing numbers of non-major party voters that RCV advocates point to as proof that people are fed up with the two-party system.

“When you look at just how Colorado has changed politically over time, it suggests that we should be considering these changes,” said McReynolds. “We have to consider policy changes like this to make sure that voters feel like they have a meaningful choice, that they have fair representation.”

McReynolds also pushed back against the notion RCV and open primaries would mean the end of the political parties. She pointed to the rise in unaffiliated voters as evidence that the parties need to change their approach regardless of this initiative.

Theoretically, with RCV, some general election ballots could see four Democrats and zero Republicans or vice versa. Or there could be races with minor party candidates pushing out the major parties.

“In terms of who goes to the general election ballot, that's really up to the voters in a district,” she said. “And that's what I find exciting about this change is that it introduces this competition in round one. And also again, in round two. But it really reflects the will of the voters more accurately than maybe what we've seen historically.”


The initiative, as in Nevada, has the backing of wealthy donors like Kent Thiry, the former CEO of Denver-based DaVita Dialysis corporation. It’s not Thiry’s first time dabbling in ballot initiatives or politics.

Previous reporting indicates Thiry is unaffiliated, though he once switched his party to Republican while considering a gubernatorial run.

According to Nevada campaign finance disclosures, Thiry donated $900,000 in 2022 in support of Ballot Question 3, which is their ranked-choice voting initiative.

Question 3 also had the backing of other billionaire GOP donors like Ken Griffin and John Sobrato, a billionaire real estate developer based in California.

Thiry serves as co-chair for Unite America, a national organization with a focus on replacing party primaries with all-candidate primaries across the US.

Amber McReynolds said many people have tried explicitly tying this current RCV initiative in Colorado to Thiry, but she said it’s much larger than just him.

“There's Republicans involved. There's Democrats involved. And there's unaffiliated involved,” said McReynolds. “It isn't just one person. There are multiple Coloradans involved that deeply care about democracy.”

McReynolds said people can learn more about the initiative on the website The site is paid for by Colorado Voters First, an issue committee for RCV that so far raised $500,000 this year and spent $415,000, according to Tracer on the Secretary of State’s website.

Most of the committee’s expenditures have been towards the massive Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck law firm. The firm has been the main entity behind helping get the initiative through the Title Board process.


Candice Stutzriem is one of two Republican women who’ve launched a grassroots effort to end the ranked-choice voting and open primaries initiatives before they ever take shape.

Being retired from the Air Force, Stutzriem said helping the El Paso County Republican Party, and now attempting to stop RCV, is more than a full-time job.

Stutzriem is based in Colorado Springs while her partner against the initiative is based in the Denver area. Both operate out of their homes as they attempt to land three separate initiatives on the November ballot.

Back in January, she said they became aware of the efforts to land RCV in front of Colorado voters.

“We eventually realized that we need to do the very same thing. That's called a citizen’s ballot initiative for a reason,” said Stutzriem. “It's not just mega lawyers with big salaries. It's intended for people like us to be able to affect our legislature.”

Sitting in her Colorado Springs kitchen with boxes full of petitions covering the counter, Stutzriem said she and her friend had to learn how to get an initiative on the ballot from the ground up. They eventually succeeded, getting three separate measures through the Title Board.

The three measures would ban ranked-choice voting in Colorado and bring back closed primaries so parties can elect their own members for general elections.

“It’s essentially rolling the clock back to 2015, before we opened up our primaries,” said Stutzriem. “It's closing the primaries back down again. We believe the assembly caucus system is going to get stronger and stronger and stronger.”

They’re now attempting to gather the necessary signatures in the next 60 days so they can qualify for the November ballot.

It’s a daunting task since these initiatives would be constitutional amendments, which require more stringent signature gathering. Ballot petitions themselves require over 124,000 signatures, but constitutional measures add a requirement that they must be signed by at least 2% of the total registered electors in each of the 35 Colorado state senate districts.

Stutzriem acknowledged it’s an “ambitious project.”

Contrary to the pro-RCV measures, which are statutory, Stutztriem’s efforts would be much more difficult to repeal as constitutional amendments.

Stutzriem said she has the support of the Republican party apparatus and has already begun collecting signatures, but put out a call for help to either help gather signatures or to donate to the cause.

She’s already printed 5,000 sets of each initiative, which amounts to tens of thousands of pages. A local printing company cut them a deal, charging a dollar a set. But that still amounts to $15,000 and counting for additional prints and payment for signature gatherers.

“We have divided the state into eight different districts. And then we're going to fan it out from there down to the individual county level,” Stutzriem said. “And then the whole logistics problem; bring it all back in again, organizing it, boxing it and presenting it to the secretary.”

Despite RCV having the backing of some wealthy Republican donors, Stutzriem and others see it as a way to silence the more conservative voices. She sees this as her last ditch attempt to preserve Colorado’s elections, which have worked for 150 years, she lamented.

And Stutzriem pushed back against the idea that this would bring more compromise and civility to politics, taking pride in her more conservative viewpoints.

“The philosophy is that they are trying to eliminate the fringe voice. Well, I'm here to represent the fringe voice. I believe in every one of the fringe positions,” she said. “I believe in closing our borders. I believe in staying away from our kids and doing medical experimentation on them. I believe in no grooming for kids. I believe in petroleum-based energy. I believe in the Second Amendment rights. And I'm pro life. These are fringe voices, and they want them silenced. Because they want to create a narrower and narrower type of candidate.”

Still, Stutzriem said she encourages Democrats and other minor parties to join her to help get the necessary signatures gathered.

“It's an existential crisis. I'm not overstating it,” said Stutzriem. “This is not all Republican. The Democrats feel the same way. Many, many of the Democrats are opposed to this as well. And the Libertarians are all on our side.”

In Nevada, Democratic US Senator Jacky Rosen has come out against her state’s RCV initiative. In Colorado, Democratic Senators John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet did not return requests for comment. The Colorado Democratic Party did not return a request for comment.

Previously, Senator Bennet introduced a federal bill to promote ranked-choice voting.

When the leader of Unite America released a book about open primaries and RCV, Senator Hickenlooper released a statement calling it a “compelling argument.”

After Boulder held its first RCV election, Democratic Governor Jared Polis said he supported the concept of RCV.

Email Senior Reporter Brett Forrest at Follow @brettforrestTVon X and Brett Forrest News on Facebook.

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