Ballot tabulator Becky Brandl readies ballots to go through a scanner and tabulation machine to count votes at the Jefferson County Elections building on Oct. 21, 2020. (Eli Imadali for Colorado Newsline)
Within a few years, voters in several Colorado cities could be filling in bubbles next to the names of multiple candidates running for the same office in a local election.
A new state law makes it easier for cities and towns to implement ranked-choice voting, which is sometimes called instant runoff voting. The process allows voters to vote for more than one candidate per office, ranking them by preference. A handful of Colorado towns — Basalt, Telluride and Carbondale — currently use ranked-choice voting for some municipal elections.
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Supporters say this method results in candidates who better represent constituents’ values. Otherwise, they say, a voter might be more likely to pick the candidate they like only OK but see as capable of winning, rather than another candidate whom the voter strongly supports but doesn’t view as viable.
Detractors point to early issues with New York’s first mayoral election using ranked-choice voting, held in June, and the potential barriers for voters to understanding a new system.
In Colorado, Broomfield City Council voted unanimously July 13 to refer a ranked-choice voting ballot measure to voters. They’ll be asked this November to weigh in on whether the city should use ranked-choice voting to elect its mayor and council, starting in 2023.
Ranked-choice voting “would provide opportunities for more candidates to freely run for office while encouraging positive yet competitive campaigns where the winner is chosen by a majority of the voters,” Councilmember Deven Shaff said in a Wednesday statement from the advocacy group Ranked Choice Voting for Colorado.
If voters approve the ballot measure, Broomfield would follow the lead of Boulder, where in 2020, citizens decided to elect their mayor by ranked-choice voting in 2023.
Meanwhile, Denver Clerk and Recorder Paul López recently recommended ranked-choice voting as one of two potential options for getting a handle on Denver Elections’ challenging timeline in situations when no candidate wins 50% or more of the vote in a race for mayor or Denver City Council.
Denver’s municipal elections are held in May, but if no candidate wins a majority of votes a runoff election is triggered between the top vote-getting candidates. But the runoff must be held the following month, in June — a difficult turnaround for elections officials to mail ballots to military and overseas voters.
On July 1, López included ranked-choice voting as one of two possible solutions since the procedure means no additional runoff elections are ever required. Instead, ranked-choice voting allows for “instant runoffs” where the candidates with the least number of votes are eliminated one by one. When a candidate is eliminated in an instant runoff, anyone who voted for that person as their top choice has their lower-ranked candidates count instead. The process continues until one candidate accounts for 50% of the vote.
Another option: Denver could move municipal elections to April so officials have more time to get ballots out ahead of a June runoff. Denver City Council would have to ask voters’ input before implementing either option.
New legislation makes process easier for cities
Gov. Jared Polis signed House Bill 21-1071 into law on June 28, making it easier for cities like Broomfield, Denver and Boulder to implement ranked-choice voting elections. HB-1071’s sponsors included Rep. Chris Kennedy, a Lakewood Democrat, along with Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, a Boulder Democrat, and Sen. Faith Winter, a Democrat from Westminster.
The new law does not affect statewide elections. However, it sets up a process for having ranked-choice voting systems certified by the secretary of state, and outlines cities and counties’ respective responsibilities in ranked-choice elections.
Under HB-1071, the Colorado secretary of state must adopt rules for tabulating, reporting and canvassing for single-county ranked-choice elections by April 1, 2023, and for multi-county elections by Jan. 1, 2025.
Proposed elections rules and notices of public rulemaking hearings are posted online by the Colorado secretary of state’s office.
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