Election night results show Councilmember Bob Yates leading the race for city mayor. Credit: Chloe Anderson

In Boulder’s first-ever direct election of city mayor, the historic election night came to an unsatisfying end. 

The latest results from the 2023 election show Councilmember Bob Yates leading Mayor Aaron Brockett by just 221 votes, or less than 1%. Just over three-quarters of the ballots cast in the election have been counted, leaving the race too close to call.

“The night is not over yet,” Brockett told a crowd at an election night watch party at the Museum of Boulder. “Things are looking very, potentially, positive.” 

The City of Boulder used a form of ranked-choice voting to elect its mayor for the first time this year. The two other candidates, Councilmember Nicole Speer and Paul Tweedlie, were eliminated through the initial voting rounds. The second-choice candidates on their ballots were reallocated to Brockett and Yates, a process that has given Brockett a boost in the close race. 

Mayor Aaron Brockett remains in a close race to keep his job. Credit: Chloe Anderson

In the race for Boulder City Council, several candidates who campaigned alongside Yates are leading in the election results. They include Councilmember Tara Winer, who will win reelection, Tina Marquis, the former president of the Boulder Valley School District’s Board of Education, and Terri Brncic, an organizer with the Safe Zones 4 Kids ballot measure campaign. 

At an election night watch party at the Velvet Elk Lounge in downtown Boulder, Yates said he gained four new sisters through this election season. 

“They’re my political sisters, and I love them very dearly,” he said.  

Yates added that the choice of blue for his campaign was made with intention.

“I’m not a Republican,” he said.

Voter turnout on Election Day itself is particularly high in odd-year elections, according to the Boulder County election officials. Ballots are counted in the order they are cast, and historically, later ballots reflect the preference of younger, often more left-leaning voters. 

See: All the election results here, in 4 charts

In all, 14 candidates this year were seeking five seats on the Boulder City Council, including the position of mayor. It appears unlikely the political leanings of the nine-member city council will change dramatically. 

Winer, Marquis and Brncic were all endorsed by Boulder Elevated, an unofficial candidate committee that has made public safety one of its top priorities. Two other candidates, Ryan Schuchard, a member of the Transportation Advisory Board, and Taishya Adams, a former commissioner to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, were gaining traction as votes were counted late Tuesday night. Schuchard and Adams were endorsed by the Boulder Progressives, a political organization that has historically backed more left-leaning candidates. 

Waylon Lewis, a co-founder of Elephant Journal, campaigned independently of the two slates, or political factions. He was not endorsed by Boulder Elevated or the Boulder Progressives. 

On election night, he had netted about 7.5% of the vote. “It’s brutal,” Lewis said.

“Everyone’s voting with their tribe,” he said. “Let’s focus less on the tribal thing. Let’s focus instead on pragmatism and compassion.”

Waylon Lewis, who ran independently of the political slates, is unlikely to win a seat on the Boulder City Council. Credit: Chloe Anderson

Dividing the candidates was where they stood on the Safe Zones 4 Kids ballot measure. The measure, Ballot Question 302, would amend city code, making tents and propane tanks near schools, sidewalks or multi-use paths “subject to prioritized removal.” Exactly how this would affect current city policy for clearing out encampments of homeless people is unclear. But it has become a proxy for the larger debate over how the city should respond to encampments.

The measure had a sizable lead as the early results came in, with 62% of voters backing it. That advantage held steady throughout election night, indicating the measure is likely to pass. 

At the Velvet Elk Lounge, candidates mostly in support of the Safe Zones 4 Kids ballot measure gathered to watch results come in while snacking on crispy fried chicken sliders and cauliflower skewers. The room cheered when the first batch of votes came in showing the ballot measure on track to pass. 

“I feel really good about it,” Jennifer Rhodes, an organizer with the Safe Zones 4 Kids campaign, said. “No matter what, we’ve raised the issue to another level.”

Ballot Issue 2A passes

Ballot Issue 2A, which could more than double funding for arts and culture programs, passed with about 74% of voters supporting it.

“I’m thrilled,” Deborah Malden, co-founder of Create Boulder and chair of the Yes on 2A campaign, told Boulder Reporting Lab as the early election results were coming in. “It was a once-in-a-generation opportunity.”

Beginning in 2025, the measure extends a .15% sales tax and dedicates half the revenue to arts and culture programs and the other half to the city’s General Fund, a discretionary pot of money where all the revenue currently flows. As a result, funding for the arts is likely to double from $1.5 million to more than $3.8 million, according to city estimates.

Deborah Malden, chair of the Yes on 2A campaign, began to celebrate the passage of 2A when the early election results indicated it had solid support. Credit: Chloe Anderson

Malden said the money could be used to pay for more programming, public art and pay raises for employees who work at the city’s arts and culture nonprofits. Residents will be able to have more fun and be more connected through the arts, she said.

“We know people are desperate to connect with each other,” Malden. “It’s a huge vote of confidence for the arts.”

Here’s what else to know

Boulder County ballot measures

Three relatively non-controversial Boulder County measures passed with solid margins. They are:

  • County Issue 1A, which would extend a sales tax to pay for open space projects.
  • County Issue 1B, which would extend a sales tax to pay for affordable housing.
  • Ballot Issue 6A, which renews a property tax to subsidize RTD bus passes for residents in Nederland. 

BVSD Board of Education

The race for four seats on the Boulder Valley School District Board of Education is nearly decided. 

  • In the race for District A, which includes the City of Boulder, Jason Unger is leading Neil Fishman. 
  • In District C, which includes South Boulder and the county’s mountain towns, Alex Medler is ahead of Cynthia Nevison.
  •  In District D, which is mostly northeast of the City of Boulder’s downtown, Lalenia Quinlan is ahead of Andrew Brandt. 
  • And in District G, which includes the City of Lafayette and the outskirts of Erie, Jorge Chavez is solidly ahead of Stuart Lord and Anil Pesaramelli.

John Herrick is a reporter for Boulder Reporting Lab, covering housing, transportation, policing and local government. He previously covered the state Capitol for The Colorado Independent and environmental policy for VTDigger.org. Email: john@boulderreportinglab.org.

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