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Monday, March 04, 2024

‘People can check the Trump box’: Colorado primary proceeds even as US supreme court reviews eligibility | Colorado | The Guardian

‘People can check the Trump box’: Colorado primary proceeds even as US supreme court reviews eligibility

A group of people dressed in cold-weather gear hold a black cloth banner with white letters that spell Remove Trump, which is perhaps 10 feet by 20 feet, with a judicial building in the background.
Activists hold a banner in Washington DC on 8 February 2024. Photograph: Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/Reuters

"An air of uncertainty hangs over Colorado voters as they mark their ballots in the state’s presidential primaries.

Colorado is at the centre of perhaps the most dramatic, high-stakes legal disputes that the US supreme court has seen in the past century. The nation’s highest court is expected to decide an appeal of a Colorado ruling that disqualified Donald Trump from the state’s ballot under the 14th amendment to the US constitution, for inciting an insurrection.

After oral arguments in early February, the justices seemed skeptical that the former president was constitutionally disqualified from running – but the case remains pending. As Trump’s candidacy in the 2024 presidential election becomes increasingly inevitable with each passing primary, his eligibility to run in these primaries remains – puzzlingly – unclear.

Yet, in Colorado, campaigning and early voting seem to – more or less – be carrying on as usual. Trump’s name remains on the primary ballot. Hundreds of thousands of people have already voted, and many more are expected at the polls on 5 March.

For a sense of how, if at all, the supreme court case could affect voters and election workers. The Guardian spoke with Bente Birkeland, a public affairs reporter at Colorado Public Radio who has covered state politics for 15 years, and Seth Masket, the director of the Center on American Politics at the University of Denver, who studies political parties and runs a newsletter about the 2024 Republican primaries.

The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Does this primary election in Colorado seem any different from those in previous years?

Birkeland: People are voting in the primary now. People have their ballots and they’re sending them back as we speak. And they are able to check the Trump box – that part’s proceeding, basically, like normal.

Masket: I mean, it certainly seems weird to me. But I would say I’ve been surprised that actually the turnout so far seems pretty good.

I was expecting that Coloradans might hold back, to wait to see what the supreme court is actually going to decide. But as far as I can tell, people have either just decided their votes for Trump will be allowed, or that they kind of don’t care, and are just going to vote the way they want to vote anyway.

Now that the supreme court appears poised to rule in Trump’s favour, do supporters seem less worried about the issue?

Birkeland: I do think that temperature has toned down a little bit, now that Donald Trump’s name has been printed on the ballot and people can vote for him. If the supreme court agreed with Colorado’s highest court to remove Trump from the ballot, I think it would be a story that I’d be covering every day – it would just upend everything. But after hearing the oral arguments and based on what the legal experts I talked to have said, it doesn’t seem like the court would be dealing with some of those underlying facts on whether Trump incited an insurrection.

Some of the voters I talked to were glad that they had the chance to vote for Trump, and they feel pretty confident with the supreme court oral arguments that Trump will remain on the ballot in Colorado.

Masket: It’s definitely a subject of conversation, like people are aware that it’s going on. But that doesn’t seem to be changing the dynamic of the election all that much. And you know, it’s just sort of a certain degree of uncertainty. And given the uncertainty, I think most people’s attitude is like, look, I might as well just do what I was going to do. And we’ll see what happens.

Major questions remain about what would happen in the seemingly unlikely event that the supreme court does decide that Trump can be disqualified from primary ballots. Are Trump supporters at all worried that their votes won’t count?

Birkeland: I know that county clerks were certainly hoping that this limbo would be over by now. They want a quicker decision if possible, so they could with certainty tell their constituents that yes, Trump is on the ballot and their vote will be counted no matter what.

Election workers and clerks have added strain and pressure on top of what they already feel in this climate. One of the clerks I talked to who’s in a Republican part of the state said that people still come up to him and say, my vote better count. They’re kind of pointing the finger at him, even though he doesn’t make that decision.

Masket: My impression is the attitude of most Trump supporters is that you know, they think the system is out to get him but they also don’t seriously think he’s in danger of losing the nomination. Basically everyone I’ve spoken to expects Trump to get the nomination.

Bente, you’ve also done reporting that found that even though many Republican voters in Colorado may overall buy into the idea that elections are rigged against Trump in other states, they retain a lot of faith in their own local election systems.

Birkeland: Yes, I’ve done a lot of stories talking to some of those people. And they just feel comfortable with their clerk. Some clerks are working hard to have people come in and observe the process and all the checks and balances we have. Counties have done hand counts, audits, and they’ve triple-counted. Especially in small communities, people may also personally know their clerk.

In 2021, I wrote about a woman who was upset with her clerk and she didn’t trust elections. And then she became an election worker – which restored faith in her belief system. She trusted her own county. But she still wasn’t willing to say there weren’t problems elsewhere.

Colorado is somehow at the centre of a number of major election controversies. It is one of the headquarters of Dominion Voting Systems, for one, which has been the subject of major election-conspiracy theories.

Masket: You know, a lot of 2020 election conspiracy theories began in Colorado – it’s like we’re kind of a birthplace for a lot of weird stuff. And it’s not obvious to me why that has happened.

But this is a place that has, for what it’s worth, seen a lot of changes to the election system over the last decade or two. We used to have a caucus system, and then we switched to primaries [in 1992] and then back to caucuses [in 2004] and back to primaries [in 2020]. This is, at least, a place for some innovation."

‘People can check the Trump box’: Colorado primary proceeds even as US supreme court reviews eligibility | Colorado | The Guardian

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