'I am overwhelmed': Will too many choices push voters away from Denver's race for mayor?

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Posted at 9:18 PM, Mar 16, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-17 01:16:20-04

DENVER — The field of candidates for Denver’s next mayor has narrowed — barely — with Kwame Spearman dropping out of the race, and endorsing Kelly Brough.

With Spearman’s departure, that leaves 16 candidate vying to lead the city. We wanted to find out what impact, if any, the high number of choices could have on voter turnout.

To be sure, local elections and off-year elections already tend to have low turnout historically. Denver’s election in April will fall in to both categories.

Dr. Phil Chen, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Denver, said that he forecasts low participation even regardless of the candidates on the ballot.

“This if a fairly typical off cycle, low information election, and it’s compounded by the fact that there are just so many candidates on the ballot,” Dr. Chen said. “We already would expect people to not be particularly invested or knowledgeable about an election like this, and then to have the amount of candidates that we do have makes it just far less likely that people are going to be fully informed about all the candidates.”

The Colorado Secretary of State’s office website shows just over 34% of registered voters turned out to vote in 2019.

In conversations with voters in downtown Denver, several told Denver7 they planned to vote in April, but do feel “overwhelmed” by the amount of research they will need to do to make an informed choice. Some voters in Denver, however, are adopting a different plan: To wait for a runoff in June to cast their ballots, when there will be just two candidates to choose between.

“Sixteen total candidates — it’s just like, you’re crippled by choice at that point,” one voter who did not wish to be identified for this story told us. “And, you’re bound to have a few candidates that all are the same, right? I think it’s best to filter it down to hopefully the best and then decide from there.”

Dr. Chen said he does expect some voters to make this calculus; for most, however, he believes the decision to not vote was baked in well before the field of candidates was established.

“I think some people will open their ballot and say, ‘okay, this is a lot,’ get halfway through and say ‘I don’t feel like doing it,” Dr. Chen said. “I think the vast majority of people are either just not going to open their ballot, or are going to have already decided that they don’t care about the election.”

There is one factor that both experts and voters said will help Denver’s voter turnout: Vote by mail. Many studies, such as this research from the University of Virginia, have found that main-in balloting increases overall turnout but does not benefit either political party. In the case of Denver’s upcoming election, Dr. Chen argued it will give voters more time to research the many candidates they are choosing between.

“Because people have time, they don’t have to sit there and fill it all out at one time,” he explained. “That may make it a little bit more likely that people take the time to learn about the candidates.”

Denver7 sat down with each of the candidates running for mayor to learn more about their platforms. You can get to know them each here. The last day to vote is Election Day, April 4.

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