Young voters came out in droves, helping make Colorado’s 2018 midterm turnout among the highest in the country

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Kyle Huelsman, CIRC policy and advocacy manager, leads a pre-canvassing cheer at a Westminster Starbucks that has become a de facto political field office, Nov. 1, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

All signs point to Colorado once again being among the top states for voter turnout this year. And one group that ended up doing their part? Young voters.

Preliminary figures show some 45 percent of registered voters between 18 to 24 years old voted during this week's election.

“Young people absolutely crushed it,” New Era Colorado executive director Lizzy Stephan said Thursday. “Young people turned out in droves here in Colorado."

New Era Colorado is a left-leaning group focused on engaging young voters that this year this helped register more than 40,000 of them across the state.

Stephan said the data she’s seen so far has “taken her breath away.”

More than 2.5 million people voted in Colorado during this election, shattering 2014 voter turnout figures, according to the Colorado Secretary of State’s office. There are more than 3.3 million active registered voters in Colorado.

The United States Elections Project reports Colorado had among the highest turnout rates in the country with 59.7 percent, much higher than the 48.1 percent country-wide average, based on the voting-eligible population.

At least 213,452 people between ages 18 and 25 voted during this election, per the Secretary of State's latest figures.

It’s about 8 percent of the total turnout, with close to 12,000 more women than men in this age group casting a ballot.

For some additional context: The Center for Information and Research On Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University said in a report Wednesday that roughly 31 percent of eligible voters aged 18 to 29 turned out to vote in this year's election.

2016 GOP watch party at the Double Tree Hotel in Greenwood Village on Nov. 8, 2016. (Jessica Taves/For Denverite)

“We estimate that this is by far the highest level of participation among youth in the past quarter century — the last seven midterm elections during which we’ve been using this same calculation method,” the report said.

Using figures from registered voters 18 to 24 years old, Stephan said the turnout rate for people in this age group in Colorado was 45 percent, an 11-point increase from 2014. Most young voters tend to be unaffiliated in Colorado, advocacy director at New Era Colorado Charley Olena said.

“We’re really, even extra optimistic about the final numbers,” Stephan said. She added that in some of the counties New Era targeted with sizable young voter populations like Boulder and Larimer, the turnout percentage for the age group is in the 50s.

“What makes that exciting is that’s a lot of people voting in their very-first election, in a midterm year,” Olena said. “And a lot of people who maybe voted in 2016 but this was their first midterm, their first governor’s race, and that’s really exciting to see that kind of response.”

Stephan said New Era has been using a combination of the Secretary of State figures, their own analysis and figures from the right-leaning polling firm Magellan Strategies to come up with their turnout figures.

Stephan said they’re not sure how Colorado’s young voter turnout compares nationally, but they’re hoping to get a better picture soon. The results this year are especially encouraging, Stephan said, because research shows that a young person who votes in three elections in a row becomes a voter for life.

“The fact that we have such high voter turnout in a midterm, between what will be, what was a high-profile presidential election and another high-profile presidential election, bodes really well for the long-term trends for Colorado’s young people,” Stephan said.

Young people didn’t just vote — they were elected as well.

Among Tuesday’s winners were Jena Griswold, elected Secretary of State, and Joe Neguse, who will take over governor-elect Jared Polis’ seat in Congress. Both Griswold and Neguse are 34.

Colorado Secretary of State candidate Jena Griswold at the Democratic Party's election night party on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Denver. (Alyson McClaran for Denverite)

Griswold became the first Democrat elected to seat in more than 50 years. Neguse is a co-founder of New Era Colorado, along with State Rep. Leslie Herod, who was re-elected to her seat on Tuesday. New Era's former organizing director Molly Fitzpatrick was elected Boulder County Clerk after running unopposed.

“We’re in a really unique political moment and I think young people are responding to that,” Olena said.

After delivering her victory speech Tuesday, Griswold said she was in good company, mentioning Neguse. She said she's familiar with the woes of young folks, like living with student debt and buying a new house. She said she hopes to be a role model for young people.

"I would just say, I am 100 percent dedicated to the job and I think it's time we get Millennials involved in government," Griswold said. "I look forward to bringing a unique perspective."

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