As the final days wound down for the 2015 municipal election, several discouraging points jumped out at us.
As important as this election obviously was to Colorado Springs, electing a new mayor and filling some pivotal spots on City Council, we were expecting a potentially record number of voters. After all, the mail ballots were sent to more than 225,000 active voters (based on the November 2014 election) living inside the city limits, counting those issued later by the city clerk’s office and subtracting those returned as undeliverable.
But our hope didn’t come to pass.
First, apathy appears to have prevailed in this vote. Thanks to a late crunch (about 26,000 ballots turned in on election day), the total number of votes unofficially came to 88,966 — more than the 82,240 who submitted ballots in April 2013 when the races were only for Council, but still fewer than the 91,190 votes in April 2011, which at the time amounted to 62.26 percent of ballots mailed, for the first election of the new strong-mayor era. This turnout percentage came to 39 percent, which should please no one.
We’ve had an interesting campaign, and the nice part of city elections is that they don’t last as long. Candidates didn’t have to file until early February, though most did in January. Still, the ballots were sent by mid-March. Yet, most voters apparently didn’t care enough to become knowledgeable and exercise their right to fill out their ballots.
Second, district turnout suffered as well. Consider the southeastern District 4, which had a paltry 5,938 voters (about 30 percent) in 2013 when Helen Collins won the D-4 seat on Council. This time, it was about 4,300 going into the final two days and wound up surpassing 6,000, but still a poor percentage given the controversial recall question against Collins.
The same went for other areas of the city, which shouldn’t happen in a mayoral election.
Third, from what we’ve been able to gather, the turnout was far worse among younger voters. The story has been familiar, coming from residents in their 20s and 30s. They really never paid attention, for whatever reasons, and many simply are turned off by local government (a problem that must be tackled).
It’s too early to know many demographic details, but credible recent polls indicated that only about 6 percent of younger adults (ages 18 to 40) actually voted.
In other words, there’s a disconnect.
Granted, we also could make a point that the campaign was boring. Public forums simply aren’t the answer to communicating with voters in today’s world. Those forum audiences almost always are comprised totally of fully engaged voters who already have their opinions and don’t need help.
Nobody seems to have figured out how to appeal to the undecideds — if only giving them a reason to care.
Last point: We wanted this election to send a stronger message, especially in light of a Business Journal story by Cameron Moix last week on downtown-area housing, with developer Jenny Elliott saying she has postponed her plans for multiple projects, adding a particularly alarming quote.
“Until there is positive change in Colorado Springs,” Elliott said, “we are building in communities where there is a spirit of cooperation between developers and city staff to achieve the best outcome for everyone in the community.”
Fixing that problem, and others like it, should become a top priority for the new mayor, and the revamped City Council, as they try to rebuild the public’s trust.
No matter how many people voted, or didn’t.