National headlines may be focused on the presidential horse race, but Coloradans should not be fooled. The local elections on Nov. 7 should not be overlooked. Despite sparse coverage, they play an oversized part of our everyday lives.
Coloradans will have mayors, city councils, school boards, judges and other local officials to vote on this year. There are state ballot measures and local questions to be answered. These are pressing questions that directly impact our communities.
I understand that odd year elections simply do not draw the same interest for most of the public. It is not like Lester Holt or David Muir is covering the race for mayor of Lakewood every night. But when it comes to parks in my neighborhood and putting growth plans in place and generally setting the course for the community’s future? They will have more direct impact than any federal official, even the one who lives down the street from me.
Beyond being directly responsible for the services that most impact our lives, elected officials at the municipal level are often the most accessible and responsive. It is not difficult to get an audience with most of them. It is certainly easier than trying to get an issue heard in the halls of Congress.
Equally important are the school board members on the ballot. Colorado has been a hotbed for school board controversy over the past decade. Less than a decade ago Jefferson County made national news when it recalled three members of the school board.
Similarly, the Douglas County School Board seems locked in a perpetual state of conflict. The 2021 elections promptly led to termination of the superintendent, a lawsuit over open records and a board so bitterly divided that one member resigned before the end of her term. This after more than a decade of back-and-forth victories has left the district in upheaval.
According to one in-depth investigation, Colorado school board races have become a testing ground for proof of concept, particularly for conservatives. With groups across the country targeting school board races over the past couple of years — often spurred by allegations of “critical race theory” curriculum or calls to censure books available in school libraries — Colorado plays a key role exporting its experience to other states.
And those are just the candidates appearing on the ballot.
The hottest contest across the state this year revolves around Proposition HH. The question has been the subject of multiple articles and columns in the Colorado Sun and other media outlets in the state, yet still seems almost inaccessible in its complexity (this overview may help those still trying to make heads or tails of Proposition HH). But what happens next week will have long-term consequences for each of us.
This is all to say that it is important to dig out that ballot from your stack of mail or hiding under the paperwork on a desk. It does no good to find it some time in December.
Unfortunately, odd-year elections demonstrate far lower turnout than in their even-year counterparts. That is particularly true in comparison to presidential year elections like the one we will have next fall. While a whopping 78.16% of registered voters (86.54% of active voters) took part in the 2020 presidential rumble, odd-year elections struggle to eclipse 30%.
The turnout in 2021 was the worst in a decade.
Typically, that helps the most strident, extreme candidates and positions the most. Their fervent supporters will vote no matter what; it is the curbing influence of casual voters that gets lost in the wash. Unfortunately, that also leads to the increase in conflict and partisanship that has gridlocked our government in recent years. Again, just take a look at our school boards.
That is particularly disheartening given the lengths the state and counties have gone to make voting easy in Colorado. Weeks ago, everyone received a “blue book,” explaining everything on the ballot. The ballots were mailed out to all voters weeks before Election Day. They can be mailed in or dropped off at a secure location (Monday is the last day to mail your ballot in order for it to be counted; drop boxes can be used until 7 p.m. on Election Day).
I usually walk over to the Lakewood municipal center and drop it into the box there. It is made from a heavy, reinforced metal, bolted into the sidewalk, and watched by a camera 15 feet off the ground. I am pretty sure that my ballot is in more danger of getting lost on my desk than getting manipulated or stolen.
This year, I had to run an errand in Golden and just swung by Jefferson County civic center. I could have parked, walked into the office and left my ballot with the clerk’s office. I am lazier than that, though, and simply popped it into the drive-by box. I literally did not need to get out of the car or shut off my engine. I barely even tapped the brakes — that is just how easy it was.
It may not be exciting, and it may seem like a bit of work, but it is important. It is a fundamental duty in any experience in self-governance. Go dig up your ballot, fill it out and cast your vote.
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