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Bipartisan group sees power behind unaffiliated voters

mesa county elections clerk and recorder.png
Posted at 6:24 PM, Jun 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-09 20:24:14-04

DENVER — In politics, some voices are louder than others. In recent elections, political parties have seemed to grow louder, using the power of tone to try to control a conversation.

Somewhere between the red and blue, though, is a growing population of unaffiliated voters that are increasingly disillusioned with the political discourse.

Mesa County may be the starkest example. Steve Mandell is a retired researcher who loves delving into data. He used to be the director of research for a Fortune 500 company, but these days he conducts research of his own.

Lately, Mandell has been taking a closer look at voter registrations before the primary election.

Mandell took data from the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office, aggregated it, factored in Congressional redistricting and then examined the changes in voter registration.

“This year was different than anything that's been seen in the last 10 years," Mandel said. "Instead of going up for the major parties, in Mesa County, there were 495 fewer Republican registrations than there were last year."

Democrats, meanwhile, had 1,706 fewer registrations this year than in previous one.

In the 3rd Congressional District as a whole, the data shows the Democratic Party has roughly 6,000 fewer registrations than last year while the Republican Party has seen a small increase.

So where are all of the voters going? Mandell believes the data proves people from both parties are becoming unaffiliated, meaning they are not associated with any one political party.

“The unaffiliated voters have gained 12,000 new added registrations in the last five months," Mandell said. "These are made up, we believe, of disgruntled Republicans who are tired of extremism in their party, and Democrats who are looking to try to stop extremism, and the only way they know how, and that is voting in the Republican primary."

However, even with this belief, Mandell was careful to note that not all unaffiliated voters are the same, nor are their motivations.

Mandell is part of a growing group in Grand Junction known as Restore the Balance. It is a nonprofit that was formed by a bipartisan group of voters who say political extremism on either side is a threat to democracy.

The group started with six members — two Republicans, two Democrats and two independents — but has grown rapidly since its formation.

At the group’s core are seven principles, which include:

  • Political parties should compete over values and ideas, but look for common ground
  • Objective facts supported by evidence should be the basis for what to believe
  • No one has a monopoly on the best public policy proposals
  • Public interest must come before political parties
  • Problem solving is more important than fundraising
  • People should be free to run for office or support a candidate without fear of harassment
  • Embrace individual responsibility

“The premise of our organization is that we need to have civil discourse, we need to govern based on facts, we need to avoid hyper partisanship,” said Tim Sarmo, one of the group’s co-founders. “People should reject extremism, regardless of whether it's coming from the left or the right.”

Sarmo says the idea to form the group stared over a beer with a group of friends. He realized he was not the only one feeling disillusioned with the political parties, so he started reaching out to more voters to ask their opinions.

Eventually, Sarmo and others started penning op-eds and letters to the editor in their local newspaper to talk about their principles. These days, more than 2,200 people have signed the pledge to restore balance to democracy.

The group is even encouraging people to become unaffiliated to more fully participate in the primary process.

“We're encouraging people to recognize that they can participate as unaffiliated voters in the full process,” Sarmo said.

He hopes that an open primary will bring more moderate candidates to the forefront so that voters aren’t “picking between the lesser of two evils” when the general election takes place.

Republicans are still heavily favored to win the 3rd Congressional District based on the data. However, Mandell says the number of people switching political parties could be proof that a political shakeup is in the works.

“There is a path and a chance for an upset, and that's because of the role of the unaffiliated voters opting out of their major parties and going into voting in the Republican Party primary," Mandell said. "So, there is a chance, but it's less than 50/50."

For Mandell, it’s not necessarily a matter of whether Republicans will hold onto the district, but which candidate will pull it off.