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Empowering Voters. Defending Democracy
Serving the People of Boulder County, Colorado

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Voting Methods Team: City Council Elections

Jennifer L Bales | Published on 1/31/2021

Possible Changes to City Council Elections in Colorado

By Celeste Landry of the Voting Methods Team

Lafayette and Boulder – A Different Way to Report Election Results

Imagine this simplified scenario – a multi-winner council election similar to Lafayette or Boulder:

4 seats to fill on city council
A dozen or so candidates
100 voters
400 votes cast
Every voter can and does vote for 4 candidates.

Suppose every voter casts a vote for popular, competent Carrie.  Shouldn’t the results show that Carrie is supported by 100% of the electorate?  That’s not the what we see in Boulder County.  Rather, Carrie’s percentage is reported as 100 votes / 400 votes or 25%.

Mark Parsons and Neal McBurnett of the Voting Methods Team ran the numbers for some recent council elections and created a nifty modification of recent election results.  They added to the current blue bar showing percent of total votes a new red bar showing percent of voter support.  Since each voter gets 1 ballot and 34,971 ballots were cast, we know the number of voters.
City Council Election Results Chart
Our team sent a letter to County Clerk Molly Fitzpatrick asking her to consider changing the reporting of election results to include the candidate’s votes received as a percentage of ballots (aka voters).

Broomfield and Denver – The Opportunity to Adopt a Better Voting Method

Unlike Boulder and Lafayette, all of Broomfield’s and most of Denver’s council members are elected in single-winner elections, with Denver having a top-two runoff if nobody gets a majority.  Both cities are considering adopting a better voting method.  

If there are only two candidates running for a single seat, then our traditional plurality voting method works just fine.  For other scenarios, the single-winner methods under consideration are instant-runoff (ranked) voting (that Boulder will begin using in 2023 to elect its mayor) and approval voting, maybe with a top-two runoff.  

Denver also has a 2-winner council contest and may adopt approval block voting, approval voting with a runoff or single transferable vote – the multi-winner proportional form of ranked voting that the Voting Methods Team has mentioned to the Boulder City Council as a better alternative to the current voting method.

Two recent segments on Channel 7’s 360 program about IRV-RCV and approval voting.

Jan 22 IRV-RCV - After a Contentious 2020 Election Some Say It's Time to Try Ranked Choice Voting (5+ minutes)

Jan 29 approval - Colorado and the City of Denver Take a Closer Look at Approval Voting for the Future of Elections (2+ minutes)