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Dane Cohn drops off his ballot for the Colorado Springs Municipal Election Monday afternoon. Turnout in the Tuesday election was 26% below turnout in the previous three April elections, city records show.  

Voter turnout in the Colorado Springs City Council election Tuesday was low compared to recent municipal elections, records show. Raising the question: What should change? 

Turnout reached 26.8% — or 83,404 returned ballots from 310,942 registered voters on Election Day, city clerk's data shows. Slipping from a turnout of 38% in 2019, 33% in 2017 and 40% in 2015, records show. 

Colorado Springs voter Wendy Demandante said if voter turnout in the city is low "perhaps we need to do some soul searching about why" while dropping off her ballot Tuesday. She noted that moving elections to November would likely help and as a country we don't give folks time off to vote or vote on weekends, which could also make a difference.

In a November election, turnout can reach between 65% to 80% depending on whether or not it's a presidential election and other factors, so moving the city elections could make a significant difference in participation, said El Paso County Clerk Chuck Broerman. 

"Having more voices always makes for a better decision," he said. 

Other local municipalities have made the change, with Monument moving its election from April to November last year, he said. In addition to better turnout, it can also be cheaper for the municipality and the county-run elections come with an in person voting option that appeals to about 5% of voters, he said.

City Clerk Sarah Johnson said she would prefer to keep municipal elections in April because otherwise city races could get lost in the mix of a general election and buried at the bottom of the ballot. 

"I think it would make it harder on those candidates to get the media’s attention even in nonpresidential years," she said. 

As to why the city saw a drop in participation this year, she said the November election might play a role, Johnson said. 

"I do think there is just some fatigue," she said. 

While it's true city races might get buried at the bottom of a general election ballot, more voters would still likely participate if the city elections were in November, said Dave Daley a senior fellow with Fair Vote, a non-partisan nonprofit focused on electoral forums. 

"If you lose two thirds of the voters between November and April, you are certainly not going to have that kind of a drop off from the top of the ballot to bottom," he said. 

While turnout was low, several races for city council seats were crowded and three of the victors garnered less than 50% of the vote. 

Changing the way elections are run, to allow voters to rank their top three candidates instead of just picking one could help ensure people running for office engage with a wide audience not just their base, he said.

It also gives voters more power. For example if a voter picks a candidate that garnered the smallest percentage of votes, but no one in the race won by more than 50%, the voter's second choice would count. 

This could be particularly helpful when no polling is happening and voters don't know their candidate's chances, he said. 

"You could cast a vote your favorite candidate and yet if that person has no chance of winning you don’t know. ... Voters are almost choosing blind," he said. 

A bill is pending at the state legislature that would allow for this style of election in Colorado cities in 2023.

Contact the writer at mary.shinn@gazette.com or (719) 429-9264.

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