Mar 14, 2023 - Politics

Denver's municipal election wildcard: Voter turnout

 Denver municipal elections active <br>voter turnout
Data: Denver Election Division; Note: Active voter turnout defined as share of active registered voters who vote. Tory Lysik/Axios Visuals

Most voters in Denver don't participate in local elections anymore.

By the numbers: Turnout for the 2019 general municipal election was 44.5%, according to Denver Elections Divisions data.

  • Turnout for general municipal elections in 2015 was even lower: 28.9%.
  • By contrast, the 2020 presidential election had 86.6% turnout.

Why it matters: With ballots dropping and the election on April 4, low turnout means fewer people are deciding who leads and makes decisions for the city for the next several years, and voter turnout could prove decisive in a crowded candidate field.

The intrigue: There are 60 candidates between the mayor and council — 17 for mayor and 40 for multiple city council seats. And there is one candidate for clerk and record, and two for auditor.

At-large Denver City Council candidate Penfield Tate III told Axios Denver voters are telling him they won't vote in next month's election because there are too many candidates, and want to wait until the runoff in June.

  • "Other people are frankly — they are feeling overwhelmed with 17 candidates," Tate tells us, saying people have told him they feel their vote won't count toward their preferred candidate.

What they're saying: 'We've been talking to young folks about the fact that this election can determine the course of Denver for the next 12 years," New Era Colorado Field Director Aly Belknap tells Axios Denver.

  • New Era is a nonpartisan organization based in Denver focusing on civic engagement for people aged 18 to 34, which make up more than a third of registered Denver voters.
  • Belknap says one way her group promotes voter turnout is by having people fill out a postcard reminding themselves to vote that's sent back once it's election season.

The big picture: The organization is also trying to make it clear voting is important.

  • "When we turn out, it's really powerful," Belknap says.

Flashback: In May 2011, the last time Denver had an open mayoral race, the turnout was 38.3%.

  • 1995 was the last year a municipal race for elected offices in Denver drew more than 50% turnout, according to city data.

Between the lines: Local candidates tell Axios Denver they're trying to encourage more voter turnout through door-to-door knocking and attending community events.

  • "My goal is to win, but another goal that I have is to increase voter turnout," Denver City Council District 4 candidate Tony Pigford tells Axios Denver, adding he started his campaign in spring 2022 in part to increase election awareness.
  • Fellow District 4 candidate Diana Romero Campbell says she has some concerns about turnout, but overall believes people in the district who care about it — including parents and older adults — will cast ballots.

Of note: Voters in 2021 approved moving municipal elections from May to April starting this year, but people including Pigford want to move the elections to November to align with general elections to draw more turnout.

  • Penfield says having separate elections allows local ones to get more attention, and he said he worries combining them would draw less attention to municipal elections.

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