The Denver City Council has approved a ballot measure that, if passed by voters, would move Denver’s municipal elections from May to April to address federal deadlines for mailing ballots to military and overseas voters.
The measure was passed unanimously without comment Monday. The measure will now be added to the November 2021 ballot for voter approval.
This change was made necessary after Colorado adopted a federal requirement for cities to provide ballots to overseas and military voters 45 days before elections. Currently, Denver’s municipal elections are followed by runoffs only 30 days later, with the top two candidates appearing on the runoff ballot.
Councilman Kevin Flynn, who sponsored the proposal, called it the “simple answer” to the deadline issue during previous council meetings.
"It resolves the insufficient timeframes and, most importantly, it preserves the charter requirement that all elected officials except for the two at-large council members must be elected by ‘a majority of the votes cast,’ ” Flynn said. “The two-round runoff system is the only option that guarantees a winner will receive a majority of the vote.”
In addition to moving up the election, Clerk and Recorder Paul López suggested Denver could instead implement a ranked-choice voting model, eliminating the city’s current runoff structure, as a solution to the deadline issue.
Under ranked-choice voting, voters rank candidates by preference on their ballots. If no candidate gets the majority of first-preference votes, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated and all ballots with that candidate selected first move to their second preference. This is repeated until a candidate has a majority of votes counted.
"Our charter is very antiquated, that’s why something has to be done,” said López, Denver’s chief elections official. “I recommended two recommendations that are viable. We are able to do either with the same amount of excellence that our office is nationally renowned for.”
Some residents and council members have raised issue with the ranked-choice voting proposal not going to the ballot, but Flynn said the council cannot send both proposals to the ballot and the majority of council members voted to move up the election instead.
Five of the seven members of the clerk’s advisory committee also recommended moving the municipal election to April over implementing ranked-choice voting, Flynn said.
"There's a timing problem," Flynn said. "When you take your car to a shop because you need to replace the timing belt, you don't want be sold an entire new car."
López said he considered other solutions to the deadline issue that were less popular in the public outreach process, including moving municipal elections to November, changing elections to a plurality model and changing to approval voting where voters could select as many candidates as they want.
If passed by voters in November, the date change would begin with the next municipal election in 2023. Denver’s municipal elections are held every four years, appointing the city’s mayor, city council members, auditor and clerk.