PI Editorial: Glenwood Springs should consider moving municipal elections to ‘regular’ election cycle

Post Independent Editorial Board

If you’ve lived in other states, Colorado’s approach to elections can be a little puzzling.

While the state’s mail-in ballots make participation easier than many other states, the seemingly endless nature of our elections calendar sometimes seems to defeat that benefit.

Where many other states have two big blowout elections every two years to coincide with federal offices, many Colorado communities have chosen to trickle out some of the more local elections for city council, school board and ballot initiatives. 

A common argument we’ve encountered is that this approach allows for those races to get more civic oxygen. The issues important to city council or school board aren’t drowned out by national narratives and partisan politics. That could very well be the case, but looking at last week’s Glenwood Springs City Council elections participation has us wondering if people aren’t a bit tired of voting again so soon after November’s elections.

Out of 5,963 registered voters in Glenwood Springs, just 30.7% participated in the at-large race for city council. The other contested race in the April 4 election, for Ward 3, drew 32% of registered voters in that neighborhood.

The good news is that the citywide turnout was just fractionally down from 2021 when 31% participated — but that’s also the bad news. 

Participation in our local city council elections has seemingly flatlined to just under one out of three registered voters. While it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, over 67% of registered voters in Garfield County participated in the 2022 general election. 

It’s probably clear to everyone why low election participation is generally a bad thing for representative democracy but here are just a few reasons just in case: civic cynicism, the ability for small groups of voters to elect fringe candidates, erosion of trust in government, a lack of understanding what government is doing and many more.

These are not minor problems by any means, and we’re concerned they could really hamper our elected officials’ ability to set policy. After all, if you don’t have a good voter turnout, then you don’t really have much of a mandate to work with. Voter turnout in a given election also comes into play through provisions in the city charter regarding citizen-initiated petitions for recall of city council members. The lower the turnout, potentially the fewer signatures required for such efforts.

Changing the date of municipal elections isn’t something council can just decide — the question would have to be put to voters to see if it would pass muster. We think (and hope) it would, and would encourage local residents who share our feelings to work to get such a question on the ballot for the 2024 election. That’s plenty of time to talk with others in the community and explain why this is a good move for Glenwood Springs.

On another note, we’d like to say thanks to all of the candidates in this year’s council races. To those who won, congratulations and we look forward to your working to best represent the residents of Glenwood Springs. To outgoing incumbent council members Tony Hershey and Charlie Willman, thank you for the work you’ve done on council. We know it’s not an easy job and appreciate your willingness to rise up to the challenge, even if we didn’t agree with every decision made.

The Post Independent editorial board members are Publisher and Editor Peter Baumann, Managing Editor John Stroud and community representative Mark Fishbein.

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