Nov 1, 2021 - News
Turnout in Colorado's 2021 election is behind pace, analysis shows
Note: 2021 data is as of Oct. 28; Data: Colorado secretary of state and Denver Elections Division; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

The 2021 election appears poised to rank among the lowest-turnout odd-year contests in the past decade, an Axios Denver analysis of preliminary data finds.

Driving the news: The latest numbers available put statewide voter turnout at 15% — just more than 620,000 voters.

In Denver, turnout is behind pace at 11%, or roughly 54,000 ballots.

Why it matters: Up and down the ballot, Colorado voters are being asked to weigh in on key policy questions on the direction of state spending, local school board races and tax rates.

  • The low turnout also places greater weight in the hands of those who are voting and their political bent.

The big picture: Most off-year elections see less voter interest.

  • In the past decade, state turnout reached 40% only once, compared with even-year elections that see upwards of 80% of voters cast ballots, our analysis shows.
  • But early voting this year is even slower than normal. Ballot returns would need to more than double by Tuesday to reach par at the state and city levels.

Between the lines: Republican voters are returning ballots at a faster pace, which boosts hope among conservatives for more wins on key statewide ballot questions and school board races.

  • The breakdown through Thursday shows GOP turnout at 19%, compared with 16% for Democrats and 12% for unaffiliated voters.
  • In the past two odd-year elections, Republicans exceeded other voters by significant margins.

Zoom in: Despite the dismal ballot returns at the state level, a handful of local contests are generating interest in certain counties.

  • Mesa County — where fiery school board races and local ballot questions are drawing attention — posted 21% turnout so far, leading the state among the 11 largest counties.
  • The same dynamic is driving voter action in Douglas and Larimer counties, each of which registered 19% turnout.

Of note: Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold reports statewide turnout among only active voters — not all registered voters — which is why the state's turnout appears higher than our analysis.

What to watch: The outcome of the elections at the state and local levels will depend on whether a flood of ballots arrives ahead of the 7pm Tuesday deadline.

  • In low-information contests, it's not uncommon for voters to procrastinate on returning their ballots.
  • Voters can register and cast ballots in-person on Election Day, and no massive lines are expected. Only a fraction — 1,600 voters — cast ballots in-person so far this year.
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