Days are getting shorter, nights a little cooler and media---television, print, radio and social---is getting swamped. Political ads on candidates, legislation, even which animals to let into the state are overwhelming with message. But in Pueblo, if you’ve got an issue, keep it to yourself, said County Clerk and Recorder, Gilbert Ortiz. Make it simple and just register and vote.
Pueblo County, where Democrats once ruled, is looking at a big turnout---young, old and everyone in between, said Ortiz. “I’d expect at least 90 percent who are registered” will vote. “Commercials about the Presidential Election,” said the three-term Clerk and Recorder, “along with a lot of rhetoric between the parties is getting people fired up.”
How things go in Pueblo County is “kind of a tricky question.” The roles show approximately 108,000 active registered voters, said Ortiz. It also shows there are the names of 130,000 registered voters on the books. “Some of them are inactive.” People move away. Others pass away.
A lot of the voters, said Ortiz, will be young voters---young Latino voters. In Colorado and nationwide, a Latino turns 18 every thirty seconds. The sheer volume may certainly move the needle in a lot of important races, he said. But there’s another variable that may also impact the election. Voter fatigue. “We’ve had three elections already this year.” And then, there’s the ‘ghost at the banquet: COVID-19.
“It keeps me on my toes,” Ortiz said. “It’s been a very tough year on me and my staff.” Not only have there already been three elections this year, but COVID-19 has also caused a higher turnover of staff which has sometimes left his office short-handed. People get angry, he said, because they’re forced to make an appointment.
Appointments to ask questions in person have become the norm because the early days of the pandemic forced the county courthouse, like so many other businesses, into shutdown mode. But the show must go on.
Ortiz said he does what he can to let young people know the importance of their vote. “I talk to them about duty, about our democracy,” said the veteran public servant. “Democracy doesn’t function well if the populace isn’t participating,” he said, when he visits with younger or first-time voters.
Ortiz has made it his charge to reach younger voters. “I do offer internships. I also work with them during the summer and it’s really worked great. One of the things I do with interns is give them an idea and have them bring it to fruition.” It’s been a great tool and “every time we used it it was a success.” One of my apprentices is now head of elections in another county.”
Pueblo’s ‘blue hue’ has faded in recent years. The glory days for steel and Democratic victories have, if not totally, gradually slipped away and to the right. For the first time in decades, a Republican won the 2016 Presidential head count in Pueblo. Young voters could tilt the scales this time around, though that’s far from a sure thing.
But if past is prologue and this election follows the last, they’ll have to turn out in record numbers to blunt those in their parents age group. “It’s really 45 and up,” said Ortiz, the bloc that turns out most regularly. “Voter turnout for those under 45 was below and pretty well below.”