PI Editorial: Poor turnout a sign that city should consider move to fall election

Post Independent Editorial Board

Another Glenwood Springs City Council election has passed, but we doubt about two-thirds of Glenwood residents even noticed — certainly not based on the pathetic 31% turnout in balloting that concluded April 6.

Poor turnout has become the norm for Glenwood’s city elections — held the first Tuesday of April in odd-numbered years, per the city charter.

It’s true when there’s only one contested city council race to decide, as was the case this spring.

Out of 6,012 registered voters in the city who received ballots for the election, just 1,854 ballots were returned.

It’s also been true when there’s a contentious tax question on the ballot, as was the case in April 2019 when voters shot down a major streets tax proposal, and had two contested city council races to decide.

That year, slightly more city voters, 2,195, cast ballots — still just a 36% turnout.

Given that track record, we think it’s time for the city’s leaders to seriously consider putting another question before voters — a change in the city charter moving the biennial election back to November.

Congratulations, by the way, to Shelley Kaup and the two uncontested incumbent city council members, Jonathan Godes and Ingrid Wussow, on their reelection. And, thank you Ricky Rodriguez for stepping up to run for the at-large council seat.

It takes a lot of guts to stick one’s neck out in the current political climate to run for office and commit to serve if elected.

But, something doesn’t feel right when our government representatives are chosen by such a small segment of the eligible electorate.

Shame on the voters who didn’t bother to find out at least something about the people who wanted to represent them and cast their ballot.

No excuse for lazy voters, but, honestly, if the city truly wants to see more participation in its elections, a move to have the election coincide with one of the November general elections is probably the best way to accomplish that.

This is a critically important issue for all of us in representative government — especially at the local level.

City councilors, along with county commissioners, are our most accessible officials, and they oftentimes have the greatest impact on our day-to-day lives.

It’s where the political rubber hits the policy pavement — quite literally when it comes to streets, county roads, bridges and other public infrastructure.

A move to the general election time slot for the city — whether it remains in an odd-numbered year or coincides with the even-year presidential and midterm elections nationally — would bring more interest and more engagement to our local elections.

The April election is a throwback to a day when most municipalities were governed according to state statutes, which set town elections on the first Tuesday in April of even-numbered years.

Most of our area municipalities, including Glenwood Springs, are now governed under their own home-rule charters. Glenwood once had its election in November of odd-numbered years, but returned to the first Tuesday of April in odd-numbered years in the late 2000s.

Others, including Carbondale, New Castle, Silt and Parachute, still have local elections on the first Tuesday in April of even years.

Rifle voters, in 2019, elected to change their city elections to November of odd-numbered years, instead of in September, which had been the case for many years.

It’s time for Glenwood Springs and perhaps other communities to give this consideration, as well.

And, since we’re opening the debate about Glenwood Springs elections, it also might be a good time to think about restructuring the representative make-up of the city council.

For instance, does the fact Glenwood Springs has five city wards from which council members are elected, in addition to the two at-large seats, limit competition when election time rolls around?

Would a move to four at-large seats and three wards, for instance, lead to a more robust debate of issues and more contested council races?

And, might it be time to consider having the mayor of Glenwood Springs elected at-large by city voters, instead of being a council-appointed title, as is currently the case?

All worth including as part of the larger discussion.

Let the debate begin.

(This editorial has been modified from the original version to clarify the history of Glenwood Springs city elections and note that Rifle voted two years ago to move its elections to November of odd years.)

The Post Independent Editorial Board consists of Publisher Bryce Jacobson, Editor Peter Baumann and Managing Editor/Senior Reporter John Stroud.

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