Despite a cavalcade of candidates running for Colorado Springs City Council, voter turnout may not see a similar boost.
The 21 candidates vying for the six district council seats in the April 6 election is a significant increase in choice for voters from the 2017 election, when 14 candidates ran for the same seats.
Across the country, municipal elections are seeing a similar trend and drawing more candidates in recent years, said Doug Linkhart, president of the National Civic League.
For example, in Cincinnati this year about 75 people were interested in running for nine city council seats, according to Cincinnati Public Radio. In the 2019 elections, 42 people ran in Denver's city council race, according to 5280 magazine.
The increase in candidates has been driven in part by people interested in national politics getting involved at the local level, Linkhart said.
But increased interest from candidates hasn't translated into more voter participation, he said. Voters tend to find crowded races confusing and they don't have party labels, such as Democrat or Republican, to guide them because city elections are nonpartisan, he said.
As of Tuesday, only 13.76% — or about 42,596 — of the 309,635 registered voters had returned a ballot, city clerks office data showed. In the last City Council district races, 31.7% of the active and registered voters in town participated.
City Clerk Sarah Johnson expected turnout to fall between 30% and 40% again. Although candidates could play a role in motivating residents to vote, she said.
Turnout in municipal elections has been falling for decades and while Linkhart's group, the National Civic League, would like to turn that around, some politicos argue that fewer but more informed voters make for better outcomes, he said.
"I think a lot of people would say ... getting votes from people who know what they are doing is more important than having everybody vote," he said.
Still, the Civic League and local advocates, including the League of Women Voters in the Pikes Peak Region, work on increasing turnout in municipal elections.
The president of the local league, Shelly Roehrs, said she would like to see 50% turnout in this election in part because mail-in voting makes it easy and council members have so much power over how local tax dollars are spent, how land is developed and the goals of the city.
"They affect more in our daily lives on a local level than a president or governor will," she said.
Far more voters participate in November elections, particularly if a presidential or gubernatorial race is on the ballot, she said. But she wouldn't want to see municipal elections moved from April to November because it's likely they would get lost in the mix of other elections, she said.
Linkhart agrees moving the date of municipal elections is a bad idea because they would get drowned out and they could become more partisan.
Nonpartisan city elections make sense because the issues local leaders are facing are pragmatic ones, such as street maintenance, he said.
"There is no such thing as a democratic pothole," he said.