With early ballot returns so far trailing the pace of the last two municipal elections in Denver, city officials are reminding voters that the clock is winding down on the 2023 contest and urging them to cast their votes.
As of midday Friday, Denver elections officials had collected 22,036 of the 452,660 ballots sent out for the election, a return rate of 4.87%. That’s a lower turnout to that point than the city saw in 2019 or 2015, the only other two municipal elections conducted via mail ballots said Lucille Wenegieme, a strategic advisor to the city elections division.
With 11 days to go before the 2019 municipal election in May of that year, 24,136 of the 405,638 ballots the city mailed out had been returned, according to elections division data, good for a return rate of 5.95%.
“It seems that voters may be overwhelmed by their choices or waiting to see if other candidates drop out,” Wenegieme said. “While we don’t advise waiting, it’s understandable.”
There are 16 active candidates seeking the mayor’s office this year but 17 names were printed on ballots. Tattered Cover CEO Kwame Spearman dropped out of the race on March 16. Votes cast for him won’t count toward final tallies once voting closes on the evening of April 4.
Denver voters who plan to mail their municipal ballots back have until Monday to postmark them if they want to ensure their choices will reach the elections division office in time to be counted.
After that, voters are advised to bring their ballots to one of the city’s 24-hour drop boxes or to bring them to one of the city’s voting service and polling centers. Locations for the boxes and centers are included in ballot packets and available online at denvergov.org/Maps/map/electionservices.
Term-limited Mayor Michael Hancock deposited his ballot in the drop box outside the election division office at West 14th Avenue and Bannock Street on Friday. He also dropped off ballots for his mother and a friend as part of a media event to urge Denverites to vote.
Moving across the street into Civic Center Park to ensure he was not violating any rules around electioneering, Hancock said 2023 is an important election for the city. He declined to say who he voted for as his successor.
“It’s important we lean in and not sit this out,” Hancock said. “Do your homework. Pay attention to what candidates are saying. Hopefully, they are speaking to the issues you care about.”
In May 2019 election, 39.6% of Denverites who were registered to vote cast ballots. That rate fell 35% for the runoff a month later. In the 2015 municipal election, just 24.3% of registered Denverites cast their votes.
Ballots for the April 4 election were mailed out starting on March 13. That’s the longest period of time Denver voters have had to make up their minds in the city’s history, Wenegieme said. The city has also increased the number of voting centers it has this year. There are 10 fixed locations and four shorter-term, mobile centers listed in ballot packets.
Denverites have a tendency to wait until the last minute to make their decisions. In the 2022 midterm elections, roughly half of all ballots cast came in on Election Day or the day before, according to elections officials. It took the city more than a week to release a final unofficial count.
The April 4 municipal ballot is much shorter and turnout is likely to be lower than the 62.44% seen in November but there is a chance that ballot counting will continue past election night.
Wenegieme emphasized the focus is on accuracy over speed.
Hancock urged all Denver voters to cast their ballots even if it’s at 6:59 p.m. on April 4.
“The bottom line is to vote. It’s important that we not leave the decisions to a few,” Hancock said.
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