The Fort Collins City Council, at the encouragement of their Election Code Committee, continues to explore the referral of two items to the November ballot: introduction of Ranked Choice Voting for all municipal elections and moving the municipal election date to coincide with the Coordinated Election in odd-numbered years starting in either November 2023 or November 2025.
Why Chamber Involved (at start) and Observations
The overriding objective for referring these changes to the voters is to improve turnout. Whereas roughly 70% of active voters participate in a typical general election, a typical April election draws half that number. Of secondary consideration, the alignment of municipal elections allows the City to leverage the greater resources of the Larimer County – a fulltime elections official, support staff and technology – to better manage the process.
Though it remains unclear as to what the financial impact would be to the City in moving the election cycle, a separate proposal to institute Ranked Choice Voting will add considerable complexity and cost that has yet to be reasonably estimated. The Chamber believes voters should be made well aware of financial impacts well prior to these items being put to the voters.
Voters will also need to consider how this change will affect how local campaigns are organized, funded and pursued. Currently, voters are able to focus upon local candidates and issues without having to compete with county, state and federal electioneering. This allows local candidates and issue committees to engage in more direct dialogue in more intimate settings with voters. Campaign advertisements, yard signs and other means of raising visibility are competing for attention and airtime with each other, which helps to reduce the overall cost of funding a campaign.
Were the cycle switch to the fall, local candidates and issues will need to differentiate from and compete for attention, campaign contributions and airtime among all political campaigns. Is it reasonable to believe voters will have the bandwidth to thoroughly evaluate candidates and issues at every level of government simultaneously? Will citizens have the financial wherewithal to support local, regional and national campaigns within the same timeframe?
In considering voter turnout there is need to consider strategies to encourage maximum participation in our democratic process. However, participation in itself should not be the goal if the quality of participation is eroded. Consider ballot completion. As the length of the ballot increases, the likelihood a voter will complete the entire ballot decreases. According to state law, local candidates and issues would be positioned near the bottom of a general election ballot. Therefore, the primary objective of the proposed change may be compromised by the very tactic it presents.
The Chamber fully supports reasonable strategies to further engage both active and nonactive voters in our governance process. We believe this can be achieved by impressing upon all residents their right of self-determination and the collective strength of every voice. We do not believe those objectives can be best achieved by subjecting local decision-making to the din of state and national politics.
Source: Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce
Updated April 2022