Jul 2, 2021 - News

Ranked-choice voting could be coming to Denver

Ranked-choice voting in the U.S.
Data: FairVote; Map: Axios Visuals

After months of consideration, Denver's chief elections official has settled on his final two recommendations for amending the city's municipal election in 2023 — and ranked-choice voting remains on the table.

Driving the news: Denver Clerk and Recorder Paul Lopez submitted his proposal to City Council members on Wednesday.

  • Lopez says both options would fix a timing conflict between the city and state's election laws, related to when mail ballots for runoff elections need to be sent out. The council will need to choose just one.

Their options:

  • Adopt ranked-choice voting and eliminate the need for a runoff election altogether, which election officials say could save the city roughly $1 million. (Ranked-choice voting, often called instant runoff, asks voters to rank candidates based on their preference. Three cities in Colorado currently use it.)
  • Shift the municipal election date from May to April to widen the window between municipal and runoff elections, and give officials more time to get ballots to military and overseas voters.

Of note: Whatever the council decides will require an amendment to Denver's charter, and therefore approval from Denver voters this November.

Why it matters: If Denver adopts ranked-choice voting, it will become the largest city in Colorado to do so, which could spark a domino effect across the state.

  • Although Colorado cities and towns are already expected to begin experimenting with it following the passage of a state bill that makes it easier for cities to adopt the method.

What they're saying: Both options are "viable," but moving the date is the "easiest way to solve this problem," Lopez tells Axios, though he would not say whether it was his personal preference.

  • He noted that the "vast majority" of committee members who helped him research best practices did not recommend ranked-choice voting, but that his team received ample public input in favor of the system.

State of play: At least two council members — Kendra Black and Kevin Flynn — are against ranked-choice voting, while council member Candi CdeBaca says she supports it.

  • The system "disenfranchises people by throwing their ballots out and not giving them another chance to vote, which the runoff does," Flynn tells Axios, a point Lopez says he disagrees with.
  • Context: If no candidate gets a majority of first-choice votes, the candidate in last place is eliminated and the count starts over. Meaning those who ranked the last-place candidate first have their second choice counted instead, the New York Times explains.

The big picture: Ranked-choice voting has taken off across the country in recent years, with several cities already adopting it and at least 29 states considering it, Stateline reports.

  • But it's not without controversy. The New York City mayoral election, its first using the system, was thrown into disarray this week after 135,000 test ballots were counted along with legitimate ballots.

What's next: The council is expected to deliberate the two choices and vote on a final measure by late August. If approved, Denver voters will make the final call on the new option in the Nov. 2 election.


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