Activists want to change Aurora elections to hybrid instant-runoff model


AURORA | A group of Aurora residents want to change how local officials are elected, from a traditional one-vote system, to one that ranks candidates, also known as an instant-runoff voting.

Aurora Residents for Transparency members are circulating a petition to get the question on the November ballot. Jason Legg, an Aurora lawyer and member of the grassroots effort, said the change makes sense in Aurora because it’s already been successful in other places across the country.

“Millions of votes have been cast this way,” he said. “You can confidently say this is what it does.”

This is how it works: In a race with more than two candidates, voters rank their choices. So in a race with three candidates, a voter could rank them first, second and third.

If none of the candidates receives a majority of all votes cast, the candidate with the fewest votes is dropped. Voters who selected the eliminated candidate as their top candidate now come into play. Their votes for subsequent choices are then applied to those candidates still in the race. The candidate that now has a majority of votes wins.

In a race with more than three candidates, the process of elimination repeats until a candidate gets a majority of votes.

Maine adopted the system for all of its elections, including congressional races, in 2016. The primary election slated for this month will be the first test of using the system on governor, congressional and state legislature candidates. A handful of large municipalities across the country have adopted the model, too: San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

A few municipalities have taken on the system, or at least tried to, in recent years. Aspen approved that method in 2007 but repealed it in 2010, after both proponents and opponents made their case for why the effort was a success or failure.

But Legg said this method is tried and true.

“When we look at reform, we don’t want to do things that won’t be successful,” he said.

Legg, as well as other proponents of the system, say it leads to more civil campaigning because candidates don’t want to risk not being less than a second-choice vote in many instances.

Some are not so convinced on that point, such is the San Francisco Chronicle, which said in an editorial earlier this month that anybody watching the city’s mayoral race can clearly see that more polite campaigns have not been a byproduct of the system. In one instance, two of the candidates are asking voters to mark each of them as their first and second choices.

Supporters also say the system forces more moderate stances from candidates because they have to appeal to a wider base to get more votes.

The Colorado Democratic Party put ranked choice voting on its 2018 platform, but so far the Aurora movement has seen the biggest jump into promoting it.

In 2011, the Colorado Secretary of State’s office sent a memo to the Legislature after being asked for guidance on the issue. Then, the election division could not say whether it recommended ranked voting due to interest it seemed to lack across the state.

That same year, Fort Collins voters rejected putting a question on that ballot that could have dictated the city adopt an instant-runoff election.

The Aurora group has until Sept. 4 to collect 6,763 signatures to get the question on the November ballot. Legg said the effort has drawn a small grassroots effort, 21 people to help collect the signatures.