Before election results came in, Arapahoe was considered the swing county in the swing state of Colorado. Roughly a third of the county’s voters are registered Republicans, a third are registered Democrats, and the remaining third are independents. The county and the state ultimately swung to re-elect President Obama—and voters of color had a crucial voice in that decision.
Law enforcement and poll workers in other Colorado counties had already harassed Latino canvassers and early voters. And on Election Day, Arapahoe County voters experienced very long lines, and rumors began to emerge about possible voter challengers.
When I arrived to Arapahoe’s Aurora CenterPoint voting center, people were braving chilling temperatures to wait their turn to cast a ballot. A handful of volunteers handed out water bottles, some cups of coffee and even pizza to thirsty and hungry voters—and their sometimes exhausted kids—in line.
Shortly afterwards, I noticed a man wearing a suit with a distinguishable US flag tie, who seemed especially irritated as he walked around the voting center, sometimes looking at people in line and turning red with anger. Long after the doors were closed, and the final batch of voters were casting their ballots, this gentleman made two phone calls to report what he had observed—all within earshot of several voters and poll workers, who sometimes stared at him in confusion or disbelief.
The man, who later identified himself to me as Republican poll watcher Dayton Conway, complained not only about the water and pizza handed to voters in line but also about what he said was the disproportionate amount of people of color who were casting ballots.
According to the 2010 census, “White persons not Hispanic” made up less than 50 percent of Aurora’s population—and that’s a big change from just twenty years ago previously, when they made up nearly 80 percent of the city’s population. In some ways, Aurora is a present-day microcosm of this country’s demographic future, which is shifting towards a numerical majority of people of color.
Conway, meanwhile, was in denial about his city’s population, and frustrated that so many people of color cast their ballots at the CenterPoint voting center. Many did so because Colorado’s Secretary of State, Republican Scott Gessler encouraged voters in several counties, including Arapahoe, to use voting centers anywhere in the county, instead of assigned polling stations. That means people driving to and from work could stop by at a location most convenient to them—and they did.
Conway’s comments and physical irritability didn’t seem to deter any voters from casting their ballots during the three or so hours I was there. But his statements do illustrate some of what’s wrong with far-right poll watchers like the True the Vote group, which insists there’s rampant voter fraud despite any real evidence to support its claims. What Aurora’s voters proved last night was that they recognized their right to cast a ballot, and they weren’t swayed by people who think otherwise.
More from Voting Rights Watch: Brentin Mock writes that voters targeted for suppression were “Undeterred by the Long, Slow Line Toward Democracy.”