DENVER—In 2013, Democrats in Colorado's state legislature enacted the closest thing this country has to a progressive voting utopia. Every registered voter in the state now gets a ballot in the mail automatically; every unregistered but eligible adult can sign up and cast a vote up until the last minute on Election Day. A year before a midterm election that has long had Democrats fretting about turnout, the suite of new measures in Colorado looked set to increase voter participation there all by itself.
A year and a half later, there's trouble in the Democrats' paradise. Democratic Sen. Mark Udall has been slipping in the polls—the rosiest estimates for him still show a very close race. Meanwhile, Rep. Cory Gardner may be the best Republican Senate candidate in the country. Gardner is the GOP's favorable political climate personified: After announcing last year that he wouldn't run for Senate, the opportunity proved too enticing for the two-term congressman to pass up in 2014 as President Obama's and Democrats' stock crumbled.
And to top it all off, no one is quite sure how Colorado's first midterm election under the new rules will affect the race. Even when things aren't going their way, Colorado Democrats have arguably been the best, most consistent campaign technicians in the country over the last decade, moving money and churning out just enough votes to win many high-profile races in that time. A Republican hasn't been elected governor or senator in Colorado since 2002. Boosting turnout should help Democrats, the thinking goes, in a state where they've already proven their ability to do that well, but most everyone in state politics seems pretty nervous about their new experiment in democracy.