DENVER — A Colorado House committee has advanced a bill to make it easier for cities and counties to transition to a ranked choice voting system.
Ranked choice, or instant runoff elections, is a system where voters would pick one candidate as their top choice, another as their second, another as their third and so on. When the votes are counted, if no candidate has earned more than 50% of the vote, the candidates with fewest first place votes are removed from the race.
Those ballots then go to whichever candidates the voter ranked as their second choice. If no clear victor comes from those choices, the process repeats itself until someone wins.
House Bill 21-1107 would require the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office to come up with a uniform set of rules for the implementation and certification of this type of voting. The bill does not require cities or counties to take up the voting system.
“It’s the Colorado way. It’s 100% optional. This is opt-in — there is no mandate here. We want to provide the framework for the municipalities who choose through a council vote or a vote of their own people to opt into a voting system,” said Rep. Jeni Ardnt, a bill co-sponsor.
The office would also establish an audit process for it and find a software provider for counties to use to run these elections.
“Cities already are allowed to use ranked choice of voting under current law. The current law is that the county clerks are not allowed to help them with this, and so our bill is basically clearing that barrier so if the city wants to opt in to ranked choice voting, they can do it through their county coordinated election,” said Rep. Chris Kennedy, another co-sponsor of the bill.
Supporters of ranked choice voting say it will take some of the ugliness out of elections since its candidates will need to appeal to a wider range of voters in order to mount a victory. They also say the process will guarantee the winner has the majority of support.
For now, Ardnt and Kennedy say this is a pilot project to see how this type of system is handled and received on a smaller scale before considering changes for state or federal elections.
“This is more of an opt-in proof of concept before we really go big,” Ardnt said.
During the public testimony phase of the bill’s first hearing, Boulder Mayor Sam Weaver spoke in support of the bill. Voters in Boulder approved of ranked choice voting for their mayor’s race beginning in 2023.
Boulder says it needs this bill to pass in order to simplify the process so that voters will only get one ballot instead of one for city elections and a different one for county elections.
Others disagree with the bill’s necessity and argue it could hurt businesses financially.
“For years, towns like Telluride have been running their elections this way with no help from the state. Boulder should make sure their fiscal house is in order before passing measures instead of coming to businesses across the state to fund their pet projects, especially during a time when many are already struggling with keeping their doors open during the pandemic,” Assistant Minority Leader Tim Geitner said in a statement.
The bill advanced out of committee without any Republican support.
Denver voting changes
While Colorado legislators consider ranked choice voting changes, Denver Elections is also taking a closer look at its voting systems and whether it’s time for an update.
“One of the things we need to address is the fact that Denver’s charter is a little bit antiquated compared to modern election law,” said Paul Lopez, Denver clerk and recorder.
The city is hosting a series of meetings to discuss how to modernize its election charter.
One of the changes Denver is considering is whether to begin the municipal election process a little earlier in order to allow overseas voters more time to review and return their ballots, particularly in runoff elections.
Lopez says the 2023 election cycle could be particularly difficult for overseas voters to return their ballots on time.
“Our goal is to get something on the November ballot for Denver voters to consider, at the very minimum, allowing us a little bit more time, which would be having the municipal elections start a little bit earlier so that everybody has the same ability to review their ballot and make an educated vote,” Lopez said.
Along with discussing changes to the timing, Denver has also started to take a closer look at alternative voting methods, like ranked choice and approval voting, as options moving forward to gauge public interest.
“At the end of the day, we want to keep voting as easy as possible for voters,” Lopez said.
Denver is hosting a community town hall Wednesday for people to weigh in on the proposed changes, as well as alternative voting methods. The meeting is happening virtually at 6 p.m.
The proposed changes would then appear on the November ballot for Denver voters to have the final say.