Update: This story was updated on Nov. 19, with the last set of results. After initially trailing in the early results, the measure to create a library district has passed, with 53% in favor.
City of Boulder voters have approved a ballot measure to move city council elections to even years to coincide with federal and state elections — with more than 63% of voters favoring the change that could increase turnout and have significant impact on the political leanings of the Boulder City Council.
“Doubling the turnout in our local elections is a massive deal,” Chelsea Castellano, a political organizer who volunteered on the campaign to pass the measure, said during a jubilant election night watch party at a home in downtown Boulder.
Meanwhile, a measure to repeal the city’s agreement with the University of Colorado to annex the CU South property has failed, clearing the way for the South Boulder property to be developed, at least temporarily. Election results show 54% of voters rejected the measure.
A ballot measure to create a property tax-funded library district was approved, with 53% of voters approving the district.
Unsurprisingly, Boulder voters overwhelmingly supported a new tax on utility bills to pay for climate-related projects. The climate tax would replace existing surcharges on utility bills, though some residents will pay more, particularly business owners. The new rates will take effect on Jan. 1, 2023.
The Boulder County Clerk and Recorder received 168,688 ballots, indicating about 75% of the county’s active registered voters participated in this year’s election. That compares to about 82% in 2018, the most recent midterm election without a race for U.S. president.
This year’s city ballot measures generated about $160,000 in campaign contributions, relatively little cash compared to prior years. And while some controversy has stewed — stolen yard signs, vandalism, legal disputes, calls for new councilmember rules of decorum — the run up to this year’s local election was relatively tame.
Here’s a rundown of the election results.
CU South annexation referendum rejected
Among this year’s most controversial city ballot measures — and most expensive in terms of campaign fundraising — failed by a seven-point margin.
Ballot Measure 2F would repeal an agreement between the city and the University of Colorado to annex the university’s property known as CU South into city limits, thus paving the way for development.
Election results show about 46% voters were in support and 54% voters were opposed.
The agreement, signed in September 2021, sets the terms for building housing, university facilities and a flood mitigation project on the 308-acre property known as CU South.
The latest attempt to block the development is part of a long history of opposition to developing the South Boulder property, a former gravel mine the university purchased in 1996. Over the decades, the property has been kept publicly accessible to dog walkers, runners, riders and nordic skiers, fostering a precarious sense of place among many residents now wary about losing what was, ultimately, never truly theirs.
The early results had proponents of the measure feeling prepared to keep fighting.
Helen Burnside, from the repeal campaign, suggested the repeal proponents will pursue other options for undoing the agreement. “If it doesn’t pass tonight, we will be circling back and figuring out what’s next,” she said during an election night watch party at the Rio, a downtown Tex-Mex restaurant.
The annexation agreement allows the city to build a concrete spillway along U.S. 36 aimed at mitigating the flood risk for the roughly 2,300 residents who live in the South Boulder Creek 100-year floodplain. The existing agreement is the fastest and most sure way of achieving at least some level of flood mitigation. The project currently being designed follows years of wrangling over tradeoffs between alternative flood project designs that may have led to more flood protection — but may have also faced permitting obstacles preventing them from being built.
Opponents of the referendum included residents who worry about the city’s next flood. Some have spent years lobbying the city to build flood mitigation. With early results relatively split, they were cautiously optimistic.
“I’m worried that disinformation will carry the day. But I’m hopeful that maybe Boulder voters care about getting some students housed and saving lives,” Councilmemember Rachel Friend, who first ran for city council in 2019 by campaigning for flood mitigation, said during an election night party at the Velvet Elk Lounge, a new bar and local music venue downtown.
Even-year city council elections approved
A ballot measure that could drastically change who holds power on the Boulder City Council, Ballot Measure 2E, passed with significant support. About 63% of voters supported the measure and 37% opposed it.
The measure would move the city’s elections from odd years to even years to coincide with state and federal elections, starting in 2026. The Boulder City Council put this measure on the ballot as part of an effort to make city council elections more accessible and increase voter turnout. In Boulder, the most notable change would be boosting turnout for younger voters, such as CU Boulder students, and others who vote less in off-year elections. Nationally, studies show, even-year elections are more representative of the electorate’s racial and ethnic diversity, too.
“We will have city councilors and we will have a mayor who are more inclined to listen to and represent folks in our city who are younger, people of color and renters,” Lisa Sweeney-Miran, a Boulder Valley School District board member and volunteer for the even-year election campaign, said during an election night party. “Boulder considers itself a progressive city. But for a very long time we have been enacting policies that are stagnant.”
Opponents raised concerns about how it might change local elections, such as increasing the length of ballots. They also worry it will cause even fewer people to cast ballots in important local school board races, which are held in odd-years. Others have questioned the merits of increasing the student vote.
Jim Hooton, who helped lead the campaign to oppose the measure and is the husband of former State Rep. Edie Hooton, said Tuesday night at the Rio watch party he was concerned about ballot fatigue if it passes.
“I’m getting nervous for Boulder,” Hooton said. “People only have so much capacity to focus on political issues. What will suffer will be those down ballot issues like city council.”
Boulder City Councilmember Bob Yates, who also opposed the measure, was more sanguine. “Tomorrow morning, no matter who wins what,” he said, “we’ll all come together again and be a community.”
Other measures impacting Boulder and beyond
The ballot measure to create a library district was approved 53% to 47%.
“I think property taxes are always a tough sell. And I think the very strong affinity for our libraries carried us through that,” Joni Teter, a member of the Boulder Library Champions and the city’s Library District Advisory Committee (LDAC), said in an interview.
The measure would create a new library district across the City of Boulder and most of Boulder County, and pay for it with a 3.5 mill property tax rather than city sales tax revenue. Supporters of the measure see it as a way to ensure additional and more stable funding to the city’s libraries, makers spaces, and literacy programs, which endured large cuts and staff furloughs during the Covid pandemic. Opponents, including Boulder County’s commissioners and the Boulder Chamber, are concerned about the property tax burden. (To see how much your property taxes would increase, you can use the interactive map released by the city.)
Separately, a Boulder Valley School District-backed ballot measure to increase property taxes to pay for “critical needs,” such as building upgrades, passed. About 70% percent voted in favor.
The county government is also likely to get a boost in funding due to wide support for a trio of sales tax proposals.
Voters approved a 0.1% sales tax for wildfire mitigation and a 0.1% sales tax for emergency response programs, including volunteer organizations, such as the Rocky Mountain Rescue Group. Voters also reauthorized a sales tax for transportation projects aimed in part at supporting people who walk, bike or take the bus.
Statewide ballot measures
Proposition 123, which would boost funding for affordable housing by exempting revenue that would otherwise be returned to residents under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, was approved, with 53% in favor.
The money will be used to subsidize housing costs and provide financial assistance to provide a downpayment.
Proposition 122, also known as the Natural Medicine Health Act, which would decriminalize psilocybin for personal use — allowing people to grow and possess the psychedelic mushrooms — and regulate them for therapeutic purposes, also was approved, with 54% in favor.
Supporters argued the fungi could be used to treat depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions. Opponents worried Proposition 122 would increase recreational drug use and commercialize Indigenous and spiritual traditions. (Much of the financial support for the measure came from Washington, D.C.-based nonprofits New Approach PAC and Center for Voter Information.)
Democrats maintain control over state government
Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, of Boulder, won his reelection bid by a vote of 59% against his Republican challenger Heidi Ganahl.
His party also maintained control of the state Senate, where Democrats hold a 21-14 voting advantage in the 35-member chamber. In 2018, Democrats took control of the state Senate and House, and all other elected statewide offices. This year’s fight over approximately seven seats in the upper chamber has drawn more than $15 million from both sides, according to state campaign finance records.
In other statewide races, Democratic Attorney General Phil Weiser won re-election. So did Secretary of State Jena Griswold.
Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet defeated his Republican challenger in a closely watched national race.
Boulder sends four Democratic women to state Capitol
Councilmember Junie Joseph, a Haitian-American and family attorney, will be the first Black woman to represent the City of Boulder at the state legislature. She fended off her Republican opponent in the race for House District 10, which covers much of the city west of Broadway. The seat was vacated by Edie Hooton, who withdrew from her reelection this summer for personal reasons.
Representing the other half of the city, House District 49, is Rep. Judy Amabile, who defeated Republican challenger Katie Lehr (who sought to highlight drug addiction and crime in Boulder, mostly by publishing photos and videos of homeless people). Amabile, first elected in 2020, has helped pass funding for mental health care, regulations on county jails, and reforms aimed at forcing insurers to pay more to residents whose homes burn in wildfires.
Also winning their reelections were Democratic Rep. Karen McCormick, a veterinarian who represents House District 12, which stretches from Niwot down to Louisville, and Rep. Tracey Bernett, an engineer from Louisville. Bernett’s seat could be at stake following criminal charges filed by the Boulder County District Attorney alleging she does not live in the district she represents. Her district boundaries changed after the nonpartisan Colorado Independent Redistricting Commissions in 2021 redrew political maps across the state.
Since redistricting, Boulder County’s mountain towns of Nederland, Jamestown, Ward and Allenspark were redrawn into a district held by Sen. Rob Woodward, a Republican from Loveland. They were previously held by Senate President Steve Fenberg of Boulder. Janice Marchman, a middle school math teacher from Loveland, who sought to win the seat for Democrats, won with 50.6% of the vote, according to the results.
Boulder County offices filled, as expected
Louisville Mayor Ashley Stolzmann, a chemical engineer, was elected as Boulder County’s newest commissioner. She joins commissioners Marta Loachamin and Claire Levy, both of whom were elected in 2020, and are up for reelection in 2024.
And for the first time in nearly two decades, Boulder County will have a new sheriff. Curtis Johnson, a division chief with the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office, was elected in an uncontested race for county sheriff. Johnson will replace Sheriff Joe Pelle, who was first elected in 2003.
Reporter Tim Drugan contributed to this story.