To get a bigger voice in local politics, young people may need to overcome a big obstacle: They must vote.
In the April 7 Colorado Springs municipal election, young voters hardly showed up, according to a Gazette analysis of voting records from the Colorado Springs city clerk and the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's Office. Just 13.6 percent of the voters in the election were younger than 40. That demographic makes up 32 percent of the city's population.
"That's pretty abysmal," said Jariah Walker, 37, who lost a bid for an at-large City Council seat to three older men. "That is awful, man. I knew it was bad, but I didn't think it was that bad."
The people who voted did not follow the demographic trends of the people who live in Colorado Springs - or even the overall registered voter population. Municipal election voters were, on average, 10 years older than the average city registered voter and more likely to be Republican. According to the data, the typical voter in this election was a 60-year-old Republican woman living in north Colorado Springs.
Political experts say they aren't surprised.
The people who voted in April, or any local election, tend to be older, politically active people with financial and personal ties to the community. The demographics change for larger general and presidential elections, but for City Council and school board elections, most of the voters are the people who have reasons to care, experts say.
"In this county and in this city, the Republicans tend to be more politically active, and older people tend to pay more attention to local politics than a presidential race," said Patrick Davis, a Colorado Springs Republican political consultant.
Young voters, who tend to be more mobile and are less likely to own property or have children, don't have those same kind of personal ties to the community, said Bob Loevy, retired political science professor at Colorado College.
"People tend to be harsh with the young people who don't vote," Loevy said. "Young people simply have other interests - they need to find a mate, they need to find a career - and in many cases, they are just temporarily in the community. It's not that they don't care, it's just that other interests in their lives are more powerful."
While that may be true, it shouldn't be an excuse, said Tony Gioia, 38, a Colorado Springs Realtor who is a former member of the Colorado Springs Rising Professionals board.
"Frankly, it's something we need to take responsibility for," he said. "The young professionals need to do a better job of getting a hold of our constituency and get them to the polls. If we don't vote, then it's hard to make the case that we deserve a seat at the table."
He said the group is trying to organize events around the mayoral runoff election in hopes of getting more votes from younger people.
A partisan election?
Although the city race is nonpartisan, voting seemed to fall along party lines, according to voting data. A political precinct map shows that Mary Lou Makepeace, considered one of the more moderate mayoral candidates, won in just 8 percent of the precincts in Colorado Springs - all downtown or on the city's west side. Those are the areas where the city's largest Democratic voting bloc resides. John Suthers, who had 46 percent of the vote, won 90 percent of the precincts, most of which are predominantly Republican.
"The race is nonpartisan, but everyone knows who you are," said Josh Dunn, a political science professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
Davis said he wasn't surprised by the places where the candidates were favored by the voters.
"I think it's right for us to suspect that Makepeace would more likely appeal to the left and the Democrat portion of the community than John Suthers," Davis said. "She's worked for a lot of organizations that Democrats and progressives have supported."
Loevy said he doesn't think the race was partisan. Rather than voting for a party, the voters tended to vote on the candidates who closely matched their own ideals, he said.
"Mary Lou Makepeace, even though she's a registered Republican, carried what we call 'blue' Colorado Springs: the part of town that votes Democratic. I don't think these people were consciously saying 'I'm a Democrat, I'm going to vote for the more moderate candidate.' I think she just appealed to them. Their being Democratic was more coincidental than intentional."
If voting trends stay the same in the runoff, Makepeace will have an uphill battle. Republicans made a big turnout in the municipal election. Voter registration rolls show they make up about 39 percent of the registered voters in Colorado Springs, but on April 7, Republicans accounted for 53 percent of the votes. Democrats account for about 23 percent of the registered voters and 23 percent of the votes.
For Makepeace, the key might just be those younger voters, Davis said. But that would be a problematic strategy.
"She'll have to overcome apathy, which is our greatest threat in the community," Davis said.
Contact Maria St. Louis-Sanchez: 636-0238