Ballot Breakdown

An analysis of the winners, losers and what it all means for Boulder County

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Ballots are in and (unofficial) results are out. Last week’s local elections were notable in many ways, not least of which was Boulder’s first use of ranked choice voting (RCV) to pick a mayor. 

In his concession newsletter, Bob Yates credited the voting method with his loss to incumbent mayor Aaron Brockett: “An overwhelming number of Nicole [Speer]’s voters appear to have selected Aaron as their second preference,” he wrote, giving Brockett 5,233 votes and the win.

That’s how this form of RCV works: All the ballots are counted, and the candidate(s) with the fewest first-place votes are eliminated. But those ballots aren’t done like they would be in a traditional contest. Voters whose first-pick candidate was eliminated get their second-choice vote reallocated to the remaining candidates (if their second preference is still in the race). 

It’s meant to prevent people from winning without a majority of the vote (as happens in a winner-take-all system) and to elect more widely popular, less-partisan candidates. 

Yates actually helped usher RCV into Boulder. He was the deciding vote in placing the measure on the ballot in 2020; 78% of voters supported it

Proponents would like to see ranked choice used to elect the full council, possibly giving a boost to independent candidates. Along with the pending move to even-year elections, the legislative majority maintained by progressives could further solidify in the future.

For the past two elections, late voters have created a progressive surge, stripping the typically more conservative candidates of early leads. Last time, it was Michael Christy settling into fifth place and Tara Winer barely eking out a win; this time, Terri Brncic fell behind Taishya Adams and Ryan Schuchard.

And although two candidates endorsed by political group PLAN-Boulder were elected (Winer and Tina Marquis) they were the most moderate of the bunch when it comes to housing and development generally. That’s a major change for a town so long dominated by the slow-growth focused PLAN, once a powerhouse in local elections.

The demographic makeup of Boulder’s elected officials isn’t changing. In an otherwise all white, home-owning group, there is one Black, female renter on the outgoing council (Junie Joseph) and there will be one Black, female renter on this one (Taishya Adams).

Three other renters ran this time (Silas Atkins, Aaron Neyer and Jacques Decalo) finishing in the last three spots (in that order).

Here are other key takeaways from races around the county: 

Boulder hearts taxes

Boulder and Boulder County voters continued their decade-long streak of passing every local tax on the ballot. All three measures — 1A, a county sales tax extension to purchase more county open space; 1B, a sales tax extension to fund affordable housing; and 2A, a City of Boulder sales tax extension that dedicates half the revenue to arts and culture — passed handily. 

The success of 1B is notable because the last local tax voters turned down was for affordable housing, way back in 2009. “We are so thrilled that the voters have shown support for a positive solution to our housing crisis,” wrote Annmarie Jensen, leader of the East County Housing Coalition, in a statement celebrating the win.

Boulder will be impacted by 2A’s victory since the tax reduces the City’s general fund, where there’s more flexibility for spending decisions, by roughly $3.6 million each year. That leaves approximately $500,000 of room to add ongoing programs or services total over the next five years.

“In short,” city spokesperson Shannon Aulabaugh wrote in response to emailed questions, “2A doesn’t take effect until 2025, so there are no immediate impacts to the 2024 budget and spending plan and will be incorporated into the 2025 annual budget process.”

City Manger Nuria Rivera plans to address the passage of 2A and 302 at the Thursday, Nov. 16, meeting of Boulder City Council, according to Aulabaugh. The latter item, 302: Safe Zones for Kids, requires the City to prioritize removal of encampments near schools, sidewalks and multi-use paths.

“We are actively working on incorporating the implications of the ballot item into our operations protocol,” she wrote. “We should have any changes ready in the near term, as the language in the ballot measure closely aligns with current practices.”

Longmont hates taxes

Longmont had three measures on the ballot that increased sales and property taxes to fund public amenities: one for a new library, one for a new arts center and another for recreation centers and one that would facilitate 100 units of affordable housing.  (You can read more about each of those issues in our Vote Guide.) Voters rejected all three — and it wasn’t even close.

As of Nov. 13, all three measures were turned down by about 65% to 68% of voters. Councilmembers acknowledged in meetings leading up to the election that the timing was less than ideal for higher taxes because of anxieties around rising cost of living and a perceived economic downturn. Ahead of the election, the Longmont Chamber of Commerce opposed all three measures, citing difficult timing despite “very positive” potential community and economic impacts.

“We have heard from many of our businesses that now is a difficult time to further increase costs,”  the group’s Oct. 12 statement read.

Councilmember Marcia Martin attributes the sweeping refusal, in part, to anti-growth sentiments in the city. 

“It’s pretty much one big package where everybody’s mad, everybody’s nostalgic for the Longmont of 1980, and ‘we don’t need no stinking public amenities,’” Martin says, pointing to controversy around new developments, including Bohn Farm and Kanemoto Estates, as evidence.

For Martin, the votes signal that Longmont’s elected officials likely need to focus on core needs — affordable housing, code changes for attainable housing and improving traffic safety — rather than adding amenities. 

“The council, which is still a progressive council overall, is going to have to commit to the core infrastructure needs of Longmont in terms of building affordable housing and doing the necessary infrastructure work that we just have to do to keep the city economically viable,” she says. 

Home rule rules in Erie, Superior

Two Boulder County towns took steps to govern themselves as home rule municipalities, meaning they can be guided by their own city charters rather than state law. 

Erie asked voters last year to give the town permission to write a charter; this year, voters approved it. Superior is one step behind. Voters this year agreed to form and seat a nine-member commission to write its inaugural charter, which residents will vote on in 2024.

Erie, population 31,000-plus, is “the largest municipality [in Colorado] to be a statutory town,” Mayor Justin Brooks said. “The next-largest was Superior,” with more than 13,000 residents.

The move could boost sales tax revenue, since home rule cities collect their own sales tax, while statutory towns’ sales taxes are collected by the state and then the revenue remitted to them. That can lead to “inadvertent under-collecting,” according to Superior Mayor Mark Lacis.

“Typically, there’s [a] several hundred thousand to million-dollar-plus one-time windfall when a home rule municipality gets established, when they start looking back at what the state could remit to them,” Lacis said. That could help Superior cover costs from the devastating Marshall Fire. 

Home rule status also gives municipalities better legal standing to challenge state laws like last year’s failed attempt to override local land use regulations, Lacis believes. 

“We’d like to preserve our ability to control our destiny,” he said.

Erie’s Brooks is grateful voters approved the new charter, which includes a pay raise from $500 to $1,200 per month for elected officials. It adjusts with inflation over time and isn’t reliant on voter’s for future increases. 

“If you don’t compensate, you almost guarantee that only the very wealthy or retired are going to be able to serve,” Brooks said. “And that doesn’t represent the population.”

But Brooks’ favorite part of the new charter isn’t his pay raise: It’s a provision that requires voter approval for any new or increased taxes. That way, even if Colorado does away with the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR, which has the same requirement), part of it will be preserved.

Another crack at property taxes

Proposition HH, an attempted workaround to TABOR to offer property tax relief, failed 40.67% (yes) to 59.33% (no), though a majority of Boulder County voters supported it.

Gov. Jared Polis called a special legislative session to come up with a quick fix to rapidly rising property taxes. Lawmakers will meet for a minimum of three days, starting Friday, Nov. 17.

Brooks, who supported HH, “is looking at” ways to lower property taxes locally if state action fails to materialize. He hopes other cities will follow Erie’s lead.

“I believe that all the municipalities who are taxing districts need to seriously consider lowering our mill levies so we can provide some permanent relief to homeowners,” he said.

— Kaylee Harter and Shay Castle

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include statements from a City of Boulder spokesperson received after initial publication.