Doug Emhoff, right, spoke with first-time voters, plus former Denver Broncos football player Brandon Lloyd, left, and state Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, in red jacket, at an event Oct. 9, 2020, in Denver’s Barnum Park. (Faith Miller/Colorado Newsline)
Colorado, no longer considered a swing state, hasn’t been attracting the same national attention it did in past presidential elections.
But Doug Emhoff, attorney and husband of vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris, a U.S. senator from California, did make a few appearances in the state this week, including at a car rally Oct. 8 with other Colorado Democrats, and a roundtable on health care the following day.
Emhoff was also featured in a smaller event Oct. 9 at Barnum Park in Denver. The topic, crucial to Democrats ahead of the election: getting out the vote among young people.
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Emhoff spoke softly — he said his throat was hoarse from the car rally the night before — and listened carefully to two young women who’ll be voting in their first election this year, plus former Denver Broncos football player Brandon Lloyd, who’s supporting Biden and Harris. State Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez moderated the roundtable discussion.
“We can be considered the gold standard for voting by mail, and even though we can accept those pats on the back for having the least ballots rejected of all states that vote by mail, we also have to understand that still, tens of thousands of ballots are still rejected every year,” Lloyd, 39, told Emhoff.
A new Colorado elections program, TXT2CURE, allows people to fix signature discrepancies using a smart phone. It’s aimed specifically at young people, who have ballots rejected for mismatched signatures at higher rates than the general population.
“Under the new program, if a voter is notified of a signature discrepancy, all they have to do is text ‘Colorado’ to 2VOTE (28638) and click on the link they receive as a reply,” according to an Oct. 7 statement from the Colorado secretary of state’s office. “They will then enter their voter ID number printed on the rejection notice they receive from their county election office, affirm they returned a ballot for the election, sign the affidavit on their phone, take a photo of an acceptable form of ID, and select ‘Submit’. The voter’s information is then electronically transmitted to their county clerk for processing during business hours.”
Voters whose signature trigged the notification must complete those steps by midnight Nov. 12 to have their ballot counted, the statement said.
TXT2CURE could benefit younger voters, according to the statement: In the 2018 general election, “0.52% of all ballots cast were rejected due to signature discrepancy, but that percentage increased to over 1.80% for voters aged 18-19.”
Lloyd called on young people and other first-time voters to vote early so they have time to cure any signature issues flagged in the system.
“If you’re anything like me, I have a signature for the grocery store, I have a signature for the mall, right, and I have another signature for personal checks and important documents,” Lloyd said. “So I just want to encourage the early voters to treat this ballot like an important document or personal check. Give it your best signature.”
Biden campaign hopes to energize youth
Most political watchers believe a Biden win is all but certain in Colorado, but the youth factor could present a challenge for the campaign in other states.
Former presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, was preferred by people under 30 in every state that held an election on Super Tuesday (March 3) and where age data was readily available, according to a report from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, or CIRCLE, a nonpartisan research organization in Massachusetts.
Colorado doesn’t have an age breakdown available on the secretary of state’s website and isn’t included in that report. But Sanders won Colorado by more than 12 percentage points in March — perhaps in part a result of his popularity among young people.
Super Tuesday was also the first time Colorado 17-year-olds who would be 18 by the general election were allowed to vote in a presidential primary election.
Nationally, recent polling has suggested younger people aren’t particularly enthused about voting for Biden — leading some to doubt they’d turn out to vote for him in the numbers they did for his former running mate, former President Barack Obama.
But the Biden campaign has stepped up its outreach to young people, and Emhoff believes Biden and Harris will ultimately attract voters by not only broadcasting what they’re against — another four years of President Donald Trump — but also what they stand for, he said.
“We’re for a plan on COVID, we’re for a plan on health care and preserving preexisting conditions, we’re for a plan on rebuilding the economy, we’re for a plan on dealing with climate change, protecting voter rights, having a strong commitment to our friends and allies around the world,” Emhoff explained. “When we are able to make that affirmative case … hopefully, people will listen to what (Biden and Harris are) saying and not be distracted by all the noise that you’re hearing from Trump and the administration right now.”
Emhoff, who has two sons in their 20s — one of whom attended Colorado College — said he’s been listening to young people throughout the campaign and taking their feedback seriously.
We really need them to come out and vote.
– Doug Emhoff, on young people
“We really then try to listen and say, ‘OK, how can we better reach the younger folks’ to make sure that they know there’s such a contrast between either voting for the current administration or not voting — which is tantamount to voting for the current administration,” he said. “We really need them to come out and vote.”
Tamara Wurman, an 18-year-old Democratic organizer who participated in the event, said she strives to reach friends who might be apathetic about politics by emphasizing the importance of voting.
“I like to tell them that even if there is one issue that is going to motivate you and ground you, know that we vote for people who aren’t able to have their voices heard, and we show up for those people and their future,” Wurman said.
Kennedy Massey, also a featured participant, will turn 18 right before the election. She said she was voting for Biden and Harris primarily because of their contrast with the Trump administration on racial justice.
“I think it’s more important now than ever to take that frustration or difficult information that we’re all dealing with right now, and channel it into something that will actually enact a change, which is voting,” Massey said. “It’s very easy to shut down in these spaces where you feel overwhelmed with what you see on the news or the tabloids about our current situation in the U.S., but … we can’t expect a change without putting in the work.”
Strategy differences highlighted
Everyone who attended the small outdoor event wore masks, presenting a contrast from recent Trump campaign events.
Even after Trump himself was diagnosed with COVID-19, the Trump campaign has held large rallies in other states in recent days. And a “MAGA Meet-up” event Oct. 8 in Grand Junction featuring Republican congressional candidate Lauren Boebert drew around 100 people.
Some Democrats in tight races have worried a lack of face-to-face interaction and grassroots events might hurt their election chances against Republicans who’ve canvassed door-to-door.
Democratic campaign strategies during the pandemic have more frequently included virtual fundraisers and discussions with some small, socially distanced events.
“The virtual approach, you reach a lot of people — so if I’m at the studio, I can do 10, 12 events a day, I can be in three or four different states,” Emhoff said, also defending the value of having a “real, substantive conversation” with small groups of voters like those at the Oct. 9 event.
Gonzales-Gutierrez, who’s running for reelection, said she’s been focusing on increasing voter turnout this campaign season. While she hasn’t been knocking on voters’ doors, she’s participating in virtual town halls to help educate voters about different races and ballot initiatives, and dropping off campaign literature in her district.
“We’re trying to maintain social distance, and … everyone that goes out is wearing a mask,” Gonzales-Gutierrez said. “We’re just doing lit drops, and that is so that we can maintain safety for our voters, for ourselves and for the community.”
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