County clerks are complaining that a crowded ballot of presidential candidates in Colorado is complicating the process and leading to voter confusion.
Colorado is one of only two states that allows independent candidates access to the ballot by paying a $1,000 filing fee. Candidates must also show they have nine registered voters who will agree to be electors, in order to satisfy electoral college requirements.
Louisiana is the only other state to allow for a fee-based system. Its fee is $500.
The ease at which presidential candidates can make the ballot in Colorado has led to an onslaught of participants; 22 presidential candidates on the ballot this year, including the major and minor party candidates.
It is the most presidential candidates in recent memory.
The Legislature took action this year, upping the fee from $500 to $1,000. But that hasn’t had any effect on limiting participation.
For clerks, the problem is the size of the ballot. Multiple pages increases costs and adds to voter confusion. Voters might think they can select multiple candidates, which spoils their vote.
What could have been an 11-inch ballot in La Plata County, turned into an 18-inch ballot, explained Clerk and Recorder Tiffany Parker. Clerks don’t want to decrease the size of the font, as they want voters to be able to clearly read the ballot.
It’s also possible that if the ballot gets too crowded, it would take more than one stamp to send ballots in the mail, though that wasn’t a problem this year.
Some counties this year came close to having to print three pages, which leads to the potential of voters not returning each page of their ballot, which spoils it.
“We were really struggling with the format,” Parker said.
One reason the presidential ballot may be its most crowded in recent memory is the nature of the election, in which an increasing number of voters have expressed lackluster interest in the major party candidates.
The Libertarian Party is enjoying its best registration numbers ever in Colorado, around 1 percent, as well as its best polling, with presidential candidate Gary Johnson hovering around 13 percent.
Clerks acknowledge the frustration, as unaffiliated voters also continue to grow. But they say it’s a matter of logistics.
“It’s more costly, it’s very confusing to voters ... We know these candidates aren’t going to be able to be president of the United States, it’s just not going to happen,” Parker said.
One of those candidates is Frank Atwood, who is running as an Approval Voting Party candidate. Atwood in 2014 and 2012 ran unsuccessfully against incumbent Democrat Diana DeGette as a Libertarian in the 1st Congressional District.
“We know we don’t have a chance of winning,” Atwood said of his run this year.
He said he is running to raise awareness for approval voting, a proposal to switch elections to a system in which voters may back several candidates on the same ballot, with the winner being the candidate with the most “approvals.”
“This is the most cost effective way to introduce the concept of approval voting to Colorado voters,” Atwood said. “I understand that clerks and recorders are accusing me of gaming the system, and my response is, on the contrary, you are the ones that are frustrating us by limiting our choices and ability to express ourselves.”
Atwood suggested there may be ways around lengthy ballots, including petitioning the title board to shorten issue titles.
But Secretary of State Wayne Williams is concerned, having heard from several clerks who are frustrated. Williams is considering asking the Legislature to further address the issue.
“I’m not trying to detract from those legitimately trying to run, but I don’t think that’s the same for everybody on the list ...” Williams said. “President is the only one you can buy your way onto the ballot.”