I spent all of yesterday traveling from polling place to polling place with election observers from a nonprofit, nonpartisan group called Colorado Common Cause. Its volunteers don’t care whom people vote for, they just want all voters to be able to vote. The Republican secretary of state, Scott Gessler, had made some efforts to keep mostly Democratic groups away from the polls. He sent out letters asking many Hispanic voters to provide proof of citizenship—which they’re not required to do—and his office did not send mail-in ballots automatically to any voter who missed the 2010 midterms. The Latino vote, in turn, devastated the GOP here.
In Colorado, polling shows that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are still neck and neck. Both campaigns are fighting for every vote, and held campaign events only 50 miles apart Thursday.
In the morning, Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan visited Greeley, a city of almost 93,000, where local county commissioner Sean Conway warmed up the crowd. By the time early in-person voting ends today, the secretary of state estimates that 80 percent of voters will already have voted, either at the booth or by mail. Conway asked the crowd to raise their hands if they had already voted, and said, “Well, then, I have another assignment for you.” The crowd laughed when someone asked, “You want us to vote again?” Conway laughed, and said no. “We’re Republicans. We follow the law, right?”
By the time President Bill Clinton walked into the gym at Adams City High School in Commerce City, Colorado, the crowd was ready. Just before 6 p.m., the former president entered the stage; the students and faculty soaked him with wild applause, bringing out the familiar Clinton smile that feeds on such adoration. He thanked the school’s principal and superintendent, cracked a few jokes about being on the campaign trail, then turned serious. “I am more enthusiastic about President Obama this time than I was when I campaigned for him four years ago,” he said. “I’d like to tell you why.”
Unlike 10 other states this year—the most strict of which are Indiana, Georgia, Tennessee, and Kansas—Colorado has no law that will require voters to show up at the polls with photo identification* on Election Day. Voting-rights activists say such laws will disenfranchise the poor, young, or very old—voters that tend to lean Democratic—and point out that the in-person vote fraud these laws are intended to address is exceedingly rare. But voter-ID laws are only the most obvious way to make it harder to vote.
Greg Archuleta lives in Golden, Colorado, where he worked for the Coors brewery for 34 years until he retired in 1999. Archuleta, who is 73, volunteers for the Democratic Party in the larger Jefferson County area, 778 square miles of suburbs just west of Denver that holds half a million people. On a recent Saturday drive, Archuleta was worried. For the past few months, he’s been asking property owners with backyards facing the highway if they would hang giant signs for President Barack Obama and the local congressman, Democrat Ed Perlutter, who’s in a tough battle for re-election. Now, some of the Obama signs had come down; more and more signs for Mitt Romney were up. Archuleta drove between shopping malls and new condos and subdivisions, investigating the grassy tracts between road and neighborhood. “There it is!” he’d shout when he spotted one.
There’s a good reason Archuleta is counting the signs. Jefferson County is one of a handful of districts in the nation with the power to swing a swing state, and thereby determine the outcome of the national election. Colorado’s District 7 is a swing district by design. A judge created it after the 2000 census gave Colorado a new seat in Congress and the state legislature couldn’t agree on its boundaries. The judge made it a snapshot of the state economically and politically: The population was divided into even thirds of Democrats, Republicans, and independents. In the decade that followed, the district began to tilt Democratic until it was redrawn after the 2010 census, after which it split some areas with neighboring District 6, which leaned more Republican, making both more competitive.