The 2016 election provided more evidence than ever that voters are feeling frustrated by politics and feel like our elections are broken. Since November of last year, momentum for election reform has been at an all-time high. In particular, many voters are clamoring for ranked choice voting (RCV) at the state level, as passed by Maine voters last year.
In Colorado, RCV advocates are chomping at the bit to make the same progress in the Centennial State. To bring RCV to Colorado, local supporters may want to look to Maine.
The largest city in Maine, Portland, adopted RCV for its mayoral race. It proved popular enough to take the idea statewide. Colorado could follow this model, enacting RCV in Denver before a statewide election.
On May 27, 2008, Colorado signed House Bill 08-1738 into law. This act established that local governments may conduct an election using a ranked voting method. The law explicitly allows more localities to be able to adopt RCV, and two small towns — Telluride and Basalt — use RCV for mayoral elections when more than two people run.
To bring RCV to Colorado, local supporters may want to look to Maine.
Since then, interest has developed to adopt RCV in Colorado’s largest city: Denver. RCV gives voters the freedom to rank candidates in order of choice. If a voter’s favorite candidate cannot win, their second choice is counted, until someone wins with a majority.
Adopting RCV in Denver would make sense for a number of reasons.
Currently, Denver conducts elections in May, and then holds a runoff around June for any contest that did not have a majority winner. The use of RCV would save the state money, increase voter turnout, and would give voters greater choice in their elections. The jurisdiction could avoid the expense of running two elections, which costs more, requires candidates to spend more and often causes lower turnout in the runoff election.
Not only do runoff elections often cause a drop in turnout in the second election, but they also are very expensive. The runoff elections in Denver cost taxpayers about $1 million each time.
In 2015, a very competitive general election led to several runoffs. Many of the runoffs had low turnout compared to the first round.
In addition, Dominion, the city’s election equipment vendor, happens to be headquartered in Denver. Dominion is in the process of getting its equipment certified to run elections with RCV in New Mexico, and should soon have the capacity to run RCV elections elsewhere.
Denver currently votes in the spring of odd years, but has considered moving elections to November to save money. Due to a $100 million budget shortfall, a suggestion has been made to change the city’s election cycle.
By implementing RCV in Denver, the city could prevent runoff elections from taking place over the holiday season in the middle of winter, should they decide to move their elections later in the year.
The use of RCV would save the state money, increase voter turnout, and would give voters greater choice in their elections.
One thing both Maine and Colorado have in common is their independent voter base, who often feel voiceless in elections. One-third of Colorado’s voters are independent. Denver plays an important role in ensuring that their constituent voices are heard and the people as a whole are being fairly represented within the city and state legislature.
Voters would also have the privilege of expressing their preferences more efficiently. Adopting RCV in a major city like Denver would create more representation and ultimately a higher voter turnout.
Denver would clearly benefit from adopting RCV, and local success in the state’s largest city could serve as a feasible first step for statewide adoption. The city makes a great case study for reform.
Denver should adopt RCV to save money, increase voter turnout, and give voters a stronger voice and greater choice in their elections.
Leading the charge for ranked choice voting both nationally and in Colorado is FairVote, a nonpartisan champion of electoral reforms that give voters greater choice, a stronger voice, and a representative democracy that works for all Americans. FairVote believes that ranked choice voting makes democracy fairer and functional, and has proved to be popular with many voters.
FairVote is a proud member of the coalition of reform organizations behind “Unrig the System,” an event aimed at reforming Colorado politics. Find out more by watching the video below or by visiting unrig.it.