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Election yields low turnout, but important training opportunity

Ballot questions, lack of candidates may not have resonated with voters
Fort Lewis College student Wiley Johnson drops off a ballot Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023, at the college’s voter service center. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Voter turnout in Tuesday’s election was relatively low – although not unexpectedly so – election officials in Montezuma and La Plata counties say.

Turnout in La Plata County hovered at 32.9% as of 2:30 p.m. Election Day. In Montezuma County, 36.8% of voters had returned a ballot.

Both counties saw more turnout than the state as a whole – just 28% of Colorado’s 3.93 million active voters had cast a ballot as of 11 a.m. Tuesday.

Odd-year elections generally draw far lower turnout than their even-year counterparts, and Paul DeBell, associate professor of political science at Fort Lewis College, said Monday that he was not surprised to hear that turnout was relatively low.

In La Plata County, this year’s turnout was on track to fall short of 2019 and 2021 participation. In both of the past two coordinated elections, 38% of voters cast ballots.

Although this year’s ballot contains two state tax propositions, several school board races and some local ballot questions, the absence of strong party alignment and a sense of disconnect from the complex Proposition HH led to the low turnout, he said.

“While (Prop. HH) is clearly an important measure, this sort of dense fiscal policy measure confuses a lot of people,” he said. “And though it probably will have effects on us as individuals and as communities, it can seem hard to understand exactly how that connects.”

The lack of candidates on the ballot, with the exception of the school board races, meant that voters were only motivated by questions that “don’t necessarily resonate with people as widely,” DeBell said.

Still, officials in Montezuma and La Plata counties said the election was going well in interviews Monday afternoon.

“We just haven’t had very many issues,” said Montezuma County Clerk and Recorder Kim Percell. “We’ve had kind of a slow start, but we’re picking up the pace here the last few days as far as ballots being returned.”

Percell said Dolores has been notably busy this election and attributed the heightened participation to the contested school board race and a question on town policy. She said the Dolores ballot drop box has been one of the busiest in the county.

On Election Day, Percell said ballots had been steadily arriving all day as they typically do.

Cheryl King votes using the electronic voting machine Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023, at the La Plata County Clerk and Recorders Office in Bodo Park. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

La Plata County Clerk and Recorder Tiffany Lee said that unlike in some recent years, she did not anticipate a large dump of ballots on Election Day. Republican voters in particular have sometimes chosen to hold off on voting until the last minute, citing election security concerns.

“I do not anticipate an influx of voters,” she said Monday. “ … It’s very, very quiet.”

Lee said that although turnout is low, the election is a crucial opportunity for her to train election judges in advance of the March primary and the 2024 general election.

Although she only needs about 40 people to conduct this election, she has 58 working, most of whom are election judges hired and credentialed to only to work around elections.

“Here we are in November – we’ve got the holidays, and then March 5 is the election, (and) they’re going to be working in February,” Lee said.


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