Colorado Democrats take the lead in late ballot returns (copy)

 A Denver election worker handles ballots in 2018.

While Denver’s mayoral contest may prove to be pivotal, and a pair of ballot measures are gathering national attention, voter response so far has been mostly “meh.”

Voter turnout as of 10 a.m. Tuesday stood at just over 24% with 101,433  mailed ballots received back by the Denver Elections Division.

Spring municipal elections in Denver have long been lightly-participated events with an average 30% turnout. But this year’s vote could see the lowest turnout since Denver switched to all mail ballots in 2011.

The previous low turnout was four years ago when 28% of registered voters sent in their ballots. That year, Mayor Michael Hancock did not face any serious competition and racked up 80% of the vote.

By contrast, turnout was 38% in May 2011 when there was an open seat for mayor and Hancock finished second. He went on to win a runoff election against former state lawmaker Chris Romer.

Hancock continues to dominate the field this year in terms of campaign fundraising. In final pre-election campaign finance reports, the two-term mayor reported raising over $2 million, more than double the amount raised by all his opponents combined.

Challengers Jamie Giellis, the former president of the River North Arts District, leads the challengers with $505,874 raised through May 1. Former state lawmaker Penfield Tate has raised $301,897 and Lisa Calderón, a Regis University criminal justice professor, has raised $121,604.

Artist and disabled rights activist Kalyn Rose Heffernan raised $11,122 and community activist Stephan “Seku” Evans raised $2,345.

The latest campaign finance reports also show that Together Denver has raised $2.2 million to oppose Initiative 300, the ballot question that would assert the right of homeless people to live on public property and repeal the city's urban camping ban.

That’s the most money raised by any campaign this season and puts the anti-300 camp at a better than 25-1 ratio over Right to Survive, which has raised $90,526 in support of the measure.

The low turnout is surprising given the efforts by Hancock’s challengers to tap into anxiety and concerns stemming from Denver’s unprecedent growth and development over the last eight years. Hancock has responded by celebrating Denver’s status as one of the most desirable cities in the country to live in.

Former Denver Councilman Charlie Brown said he expected Initiative 300 would drive voters to cast ballots. But he also questioned if the mayoral challengers’ critique of the city’s growth is resonating with those voters.

“Well, if it’s that bad, where are the voters?” he asked in a Colorado Politics podcast.

A Colorado Politics analysis of voting patterns across the city showed turnout thus far was heaviest in City Council Districts 4, 5 and 6 which are mostly in the southeast corner of the city. Turnout in those areas has ranged from 28.2% to 30.5%.

The lowest turnout thus far has been in City Council Districts 3 and 11 in the northern half of the city, where less than 16% of the voters have cast ballots so far.

Lynn Bartels, a former political columnist, pointed out on the podcast that voters in District 11, which includes Montbello and Green Valley Ranch, historically tend to wait until Election Day to turn in their ballots.

(1) comment

Gamblin Briggs

As a 10-year (1991-2001) veteran of the Webb administration and a paid staffer on the 1987 Pena mayoral campaign who now lives in Riverside, CA, I have followed this election through Colorado Politics. I believe that the 2019 race is most like Mayor Webb’s tough 1995 re-election against then City Councilwoman Mary DeGroot and Mayor Pena’s hard fought 1987 runoff victory over Don Bain. In both cases, the incumbents were pushed to runoff races that, due to superior organization and money, they won. I expect a runoff being set today with Mayor Hancock winning his third and final term in June.

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