BROOMFIELD, Colo. — Voters in Broomfield will have a chance in November to decide whether they want to try out a different election system to pick their mayor and city council moving forward.
Ballot question 2A asks whether the city and county should move to a ranked choice voting system for those elections.
It’s a system where voters will rank the candidates based on their preferences. Once the votes are tallied, if no one candidate wins a clear majority of the vote, an instant runoff would be triggered.
The lowest vote-earning candidates would be eliminated and the people who voted for them would have their second-choice candidate considered. If no one wins a majority in that round, the cycle repeats itself until there is a clear winner.
Telluride, Basalt, Boulder and Carbondale have all already signed on to the idea.
Boulder will begin choosing the mayor with ranked choice voting starting in 2023. Carbondale approved the system nearly two decades ago but has never needed to use it.
The case for ranked choice voting
Supporters of ranked choice voting say the switch can lead to better competitions, less negativity and more diversity among candidates.
“We’re only limited to one choice even though there might be many candidates running for an office that we probably agree with,” said Mike Shelton, a former Broomfield city council member.
He believes the switch could help voters feel more comfortable picking the candidate who most aligns with their values instead of voting simply for the person they believe has the best shot at winning.
“A candidate would never be encouraged to drop out of a race because for fear that they would split the vote,” said Shelton.
Shelton, who is a conservative, also says the system could give third-party candidates a better chance at winning and help with oversees voters who sometimes do not receive their ballots in enough time to participate in a runoff election.
After years of debating the idea, the Broomfield city council voted unanimously to send the ballot question to voters in November.
“Ranked choice voting is really meant to be nonpartisan. It’s not meant to benefit the Republicans or Democrats one over the other,” said Laurie Anderson, a Broomfield city council member.
Supporters of ranked choice voting say a simple plurality is too low of a threshold for a candidate to win the race and a majority should be required.
In 2017, Kim Groom won her council seat in Broomfield with 37.7% of the vote after a four-way race. Meanwhile, in the 2019 election, Mayor Patrick Quinn won his seat with 36% of the vote after a three-way race.
If approved, the area would still be able to use the same voting machine, however there would be an increase in cost to run the election.
Proponents of 2A say the system switch should be at most $59,000, though the exact cost is unknown.
The case against ranked choice voting
While the idea of ranked choice voting does have bipartisan support, it also faces bipartisan opposition.
“With ranked choice voting, what it does is it muddies the water a little bit. Elections are already complex,” said Nick Kliebenstein, the chairman of the Broomfield County Republican Party.
The party itself has not taken a position on the ballot question, however Kliebenstein says the area has become more partisan in recent years and he worries the change could lead to more political games.
He also doesn’t believe the switch is needed in Broomfield and the ballot question could be trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist for the area.
“We saw just this year we had a Democrat former council member, who already applied to be running for mayor, talked out of it so that the current Democrat mayor candidate could step into that role. So they seem to be solving the situation on their own,” he said.
Kliebenstein also worries that the system could benefit one party over another or make for a more partisan election overall, and he’s concerned the system could be taken advantage of.
Shelton disagrees and insists that ranked choice voting is safe and would be as reliable as the current system.
“I’m a conservative. Elections are not something to be taken lightly,” he said. ”It uses our same machines and it incorporates software that is a lot like an Excel table to figure out how those subsequent rounds go.”
Instead of ranked choice voting, Kliebenstein says the voting change he would like to see for the area is for the clerk and recorder’s seat to be elected and not appointed.
A change to state law
In an effort to help more localities consider ranked choice voting, Colorado lawmakers passed a bill in the 2021 legislative session to ease some of the cost burden.
HB21-1071 required the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office to develop statewide rules that lay the groundwork for the minimum requirements in these elections.
The rules would cover things like the ability to audit election results. However, it only applies to nonpartisan municipal elections.
The law also requires the Secretary of State to look for a standardized system, negotiate a purchase price and consider a single, annual statewide license to operate the software. This would ease some of the cost burdens localities currently face when they implement this change.
The bill received broad democratic support but only a handful of republicans voted in favor of it.
If 2A is approved, Broomfield would become the fifth area in the state to sign on to ranked choice voting. However, it will be up to voters to decide whether they’re ready for an election change in November.