Check your mailboxes, Denver. Your city ballots should be arriving.
Mine came today, sandwiched between a mailer for discount lawn aeration and a fishing gear catalogue. Its presence was a bit of a surprise to my 8th-grader, who fetches the mail at our house and figured elections happened in the fall, not the spring.
I worry that many of the city’s 420,000 registered voters might share that assumption or pass up the chance to vote in Denver’s May 7 election for other reasons.
One such reason: History. Denverites have a dismal record of turning out for city elections. Only 29 percent of active voters cast ballots in May 2015 when Mayor Michael Hancock snagged reelection. And four years earlier, when he first won the office, turnout was 38 percent.
Those numbers compare to 74 and 82 percent turnout for the November 2018 and November 2016 elections.
Another concern: Despite the fact that this year’s ballot includes a mayor’s race, a record number of candidates vying for city council seats, and two controversial proposed ordinances – one to legalize urban camping and the other decriminalizing magic mushrooms – many Denverites seem not to know, or care that an election is approaching.
I base this assessment on admittedly unscientific measures, like the fact that on my 4.8-mile drive to drop my eldest at high school each morning, and on my 4.9-mile way back home along a different route, only six yards have campaign signs. And the fact that of the five people sitting in my oil-change shop’s waiting room on Sunday, none had an opinion – or even a favorite – in the mayor’s race. And there’s this: When I asked two campaign consultants – each handling more than one city candidate – today about the level of interest in Denver’s election, both told me, in so many words, that nobody’s paying attention.
“It’s a snoozer,” said one of them, whom I’d awakened from an afternoon nap.
“You know that scene in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy falls asleep in the poppy field?” the other asked me. “Let’s just say that right now, the election is pretty much like a poppy field.”
This bums me out.
The prospect of low voter participation also bums out Alton Dillard, the longtime spokesman for Denver’s Election Division whose job is largely to educate voters on the importance of voting and encourage them to participate. His office and state election laws make it easy by allowing same-day voter registration, offering sample ballots based on voters’ addresses, and enabling voters to mail in their ballots (postage is $.70), drop them off at any of 28 24-hour ballot boxes, or, starting April 29, drop them off at voting centers throughout the city.
Voters who are suspicious of the election process may find some comfort (or not) in their ability to track their ballots to make sure they’re counted.
Voters who are clueless about the candidates can visit the city’s Denver Decides portal for links to their websites and city-sponsored public forums.
If you’re looking for a livelier mayoral forum than the one sanctioned by the city, check out a debate I’ll be moderating at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 18 sponsored byThe Colorado Independent and our friends at Civic Matters and Denver Open Media. You can watch the livestream on Facebook or on DOM’s website, or listen on the radio at 92.9 FM / 89.3 HD3, or online here.