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Independents say they've been locked out of primaries for too long 

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Some unaffiliated voters are doing something that seems uncharacteristic: organizing.

About 40 percent of Americans nationwide are independents, and some want elections and practices that better represent their interests. Those feelings are reflected in lawsuits and ballot initiatives; three initiatives have been proposed for Colorado this November.

Dennis Brovarone, a business law attorney and independent voter in Jefferson County, sums up the frustration: "It doesn't seem fair that the political parties get to dictate the choices of who is going to be candidates in the general election."

This week, the state's independent voters will be getting a notification in the mail, explaining that they need to register with a major political party to vote in closed primaries. But consider: Each of Colorado's two major political parties only has about 1.1 million members, compared to 1.3 million unaffiliated voters.

Access to primaries is the major issue for independents nationwide, and the focus of sites such as openprimaries.org and independentvoting.org. The latter site, a project of the Committee for a Unified Independent Party, lists 33 states with some form of open primaries or caucuses for the presidential election, but says only a few have open primaries for other state and federal offices.

Independentvoting.org spokesperson Sarah Lyons says independents have recently taken to the courts to fight off party attacks on open primary systems in South Carolina and Hawaii. In New Jersey, an independent voters group is suing the state for open primaries.

"There's just a lot of activity going on in this area," she says.

In Colorado, Initiative 112, creating a "Two-Stage Election System," would rewrite the election process for candidates for federal and state offices. All eligible candidates would go through a "first-round election," in which all voters would be invited to cast a ballot for a candidate of any political stripe; the top three vote-getters, and any other candidate with at least 3 percent of the vote, would move on to the "second-round election" in November. (Unless one candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, in which case he/she is the sole candidate for that office in the November election.)

In the November election, electors could rank a first, second and third choice. The votes are counted in rounds, with the lowest-finishing candidate eliminated in each round and the second-choice votes of those who voted for that lowest-finishing candidate distributed among the remaining candidates. The process is repeated until two candidates remain. The candidate with the most votes wins.

The system bears similarities to Proposition 14, passed by voters in California in 2010. That law does away with primaries for state and congressional candidates in favor of a first-round election that selects the top two vote-getters — regardless of party — to move on to the final election.

Ryan Ross, a private investigator in Denver, says he wrote Initiative 112 after a lot of research and public meetings. He's also behind two other Colorado initiatives, one aimed at making the Secretary of State an appointed, rather than elected, position, and one aimed at changing the state's redistricting process. He's not certain he'll move forward with all of them. A lifelong independent, Ross says he believes that primaries tend to select only extremely partisan candidates.

"There aren't enough centrist problem-solvers in public office," he says.

He notes that an April survey by Public Policy Polling of 596 Colorado voters found that 61 percent of people would support "a new election system that reduced political polarization, helped centrist candidates, and helped elect more problem-solving candidates willing and able to compromise."

The challenge for Ross will be getting the 86,105 petition signatures needed to advance each initiative to the ballot by Aug. 4. He has about a dozen signature-gatherers, which he's found through his website changepoliticsnow.org, and he says he's raised about $20,000. But he estimates he'll need 10 times that much to hire paid signature-gatherers.

stanley@csindy.com

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