Make your vote count: Eagle County officials discuss the importance of odd-year elections
‘If you have a jurisdiction of 3,000 eligible voters, every one of those votes really matters,’ county clerk says
Fewer Eagle County residents will vote in the upcoming Nov. 2 local election than last year’s presidential election, even though voters can make more of an impact and are more likely to feel the impact of local races and ballot initiatives.
This year’s ballot, which varies based on where you live, will feature significant ballot questions and races for local offices that, in Eagle County, are sometimes decided by just a handful of votes.
“I truly believe that, even in a federal election, every vote counts and every vote matters, but in local elections, there are fewer eligible voters, and so it increases the impact of that one vote,” Eagle County Clerk and Recorder Regina O’Brien said. “If you have a jurisdiction of 3,000 eligible voters, every one of those votes really matters.”
Still, even civically minded residents can let life get in the way of making it to the ballot box in an odd-year election like this one.
Many voters may not even be aware that Eagle County holds a local or “coordinated election” at least every November, with special district elections occasionally held in addition to this, O’Brien said.
Eagle County’s voter turnout in the national elections held every two years is high, hovering around 75% to 85%, depending on whether there is a presidential race. Odd-year local elections like the one this fall, on the other hand, typically see turnout numbers between 30% to 40%, O’Brien said.
The Eagle County Clerk’s Office tracks turnout among the county’s active voters.
Voters are listed as inactive when their ballots are unable to be successfully delivered to their registration address, she explained. Voters who do not reach out to fix this are listed as inactive but are not removed from voter rolls.
Last year’s presidential election drew 86% of active voters in Eagle County and the previous presidential election drew 84%, according to election results archived by the County Clerk’s Office. The 2018 congressional election elicited a 74% turnout.
Eagle County’s turnout in recent odd-year local or “coordinated elections” was 34% in 2015, 36% in 2017 and 39% in 2019.
These numbers were slightly higher than the statewide average for the 2017 odd-year election, which was 33%, according to records kept by the Colorado Secretary of State. Comparable data has not been published for the 2015 or 2019 coordinated elections.
One reason for this drop-off is surely the difference in media coverage of national versus local elections, O’Brien said.
With national elections, “the top-of-mind awareness is greater both in the media and just in the public’s mind,” she said.
Only engaging in politics at the national level contributes to more divisive rhetoric and the increasingly common idea that “if it’s government it’s bad,” Eagle County Commissioner Matt Scherr said.
“People are finding a place to really be engaged. The problem is those places are so toxic, so we have to find better ways to engage people that really satisfy their soul,” Scherr said.
Engaging in local politics brings it down to a more human, and a more productive, level, he said.
“I always say your vote is your voice, and if you have topics that you are passionate about in your local community and that you want to see changes made or … momentum to move something you’re passionate about forward whether that be at the town level, at the school level, or how your tax dollars are spent, then your vote in a local election can make a real difference,” O’Brien said.
So, it is important to vote in your local election, “get that sticker, and have a conversation about it,” Scherr said. But his hope is that voting in odd-year elections gives Eagle County residents a taste of the gratification that can come with getting more engaged locally, and that afterward they might be left wanting more.
“If we get everybody to vote, hooray for us, but that can’t be it. That’s got to be the entry, not the end,” he said.
More engagement breeds more people running for office. More people running for office means more choice and less vacancies that need to be filled by appointments, which can be a common occurrence in small towns, Scherr said. This all ultimately results in better government for everyone.
“We have to find ways to appeal to people and scratch that itch, and I still haven’t figured out what that is,” he said.
Scherr learned quickly that town halls will draw the same handful of people. He has since expanded his thinking to explore how people might engage with local political and civic matters in environments that feel more comfortable to them like wine nights, church groups or book club meetings.
The past few election cycles, Scherr has held events at local coffee shops where he goes through the county’s composite ballot and explains various offices and ballot questions to voters, something he said he plans to do this year, too.
The county is still working to improve outreach to local Latino and Spanish-speaking voters through initiatives like Mi Salud, Mi Charco, a county-run Facebook page that puts out public health information and other community announcements, Sherr said.
Voter information will also be available on the MIRA Bus, a traveling RV that offers a variety of resources, services and referrals for public health, wellness and community support, he said.
Voces Unidas de las Montañas, which serves Eagle, Garfield and Pitkin counties, also offers information and assistance with voter registration, voter education and voter protection.
The organization focuses on advocacy, leadership and civic engagement to “build community power” among historically disenfranchised Latino populations, executive director Alex Sánchez said in an interview at the start of the month. Strengthening the local Latino vote is a big part of this.
“We create the infrastructure and the opportunities for people to advocate for themselves, for them to lead in their own communities and their own spaces,” Sánchez said.
Colorado offers a strong vote-by-mail system in which all registered voters are mailed their official ballot to fill out at home and mail back or deposit at a local 24-hour ballot drop box, O’Brien said.
Vote centers are also open to voters starting at the end of October in Eagle, Avon, El Jebel and Vail. There, voters can vote in person, register to vote, request a new ballot, or get assistance on other election-related matters, she said.
This approach seems to have had a positive impact on voter turnout. When it was implemented in the 2013 odd-year local election, statewide turnout rose to 45%. Previously, statewide turnout in odd-year elections had hovered around 25%, according to data provided by O’Brien.
“We always want to get as high voter turnout as we can, so I would love to continue to encourage participation in our local elections and see if we can get our Eagle County turnout higher than it has historically been,” O’Brien said. “So, please vote.”
For more information on voter registration or other election-related questions, visit GoVoteColorado.gov or reach out to the office of the Eagle County Clerk and Recorder at 970-328-8710 or email@example.com.
Email Kelli Duncan at firstname.lastname@example.org