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The Colorado State Capitol building. Photo by Sarah Boyum.

10 Things to Know About the Colorado 2017 Elections

Democrats claim wins nationwide while Denver gets ready to spend big.

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Election Day in Colorado embraced the adage that all politics are local. With no statewide candidates or measures on the ballot, school district races and city issues took precedence on Tuesday. Turnout was low, with only about a third of Colorado voters participating in the 2017 elections as of 7 a.m. on November 8, reports the Colorado Secretary of State’s office. Of the 3.2 million ballots that were issued, 1.2 million ballots (about 37 percent) were returned.

Six counties without any issues on the ballot did not hold elections. In counties that held elections, ballots only went out to voters living in districts where there were issues or races. About 50,000 voters in Arapahoe County, for example, were not eligible to participate in Tuesday’s vote. Women returned more ballots than men, and voters between the ages of 41 and 60 had the highest participation. Here are 10 more takeaways Coloradans should all know from Election Day 2017:

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Democrats Won Bigly

Though Colorado didn’t have any state-level election, across the country, Democrats claimed notable victories. In many key 2017 contests, including governor’s races in Virginia and New Jersey and big city mayor’s races in New York, Boston, Detroit, and Charlotte, democrats won with voters. Maine also approved a measure to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, joining 31 other states. The wins are largely seen as a rejection of President Trump’s politics and could set the tone for 2018. Swing state Virginia elected Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam over Republican Ed Gillespie, who unsuccessfully tried to tap into racial culture wars over immigration and confederate statues to attract Trump’s base of white working-class voters. In New Jersey, Democrat Phil Murphy defeated Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno to replace term-limited Republican Chris Christie as governor.

Denver Is Ready to Spend

The Mile High City approved nearly $1 billion for about 70 projects, including a $13 million improvement of the 16th Street Mall. Voters said yes to spending $416 million on transportation and mobility; $117 million on cultural facilities that include the Denver Art Museum, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, and the Denver Botanic Gardens; and $75 million for a Denver Health Ambulatory Care Center. Public safety programs, libraries, and parks and recreation improvements also get funding.

By a late night count, Denver voters overwhelmingly approved a $937 million package of seven bond measures (represented by Questions A through G on the ballot) with at least two-thirds support. There was no organized opposition to the measure, which won’t raise taxes and represents input from community members and city officials. “Starting tomorrow, we’ll get to work getting these repairs and improvements going—repairs and improvements that were designed by the people, that are now happening, thanks to the people,” said Denver Mayor Michael Hancock.

Denver School Board Splits the Vote

Denver Public School Board races split between two candidates who agree with the district’s current direction of reform and two candidates who want to change course, according to Chalkbeat. As of 2 a.m. Wednesday morning, Denver’s District 3 was the closest race, with challenger Carrie Olson holding a nearly four-point lead of 52 percent to 48 percent over incumbent Mike Johnson. In the three-candidate race in Denver’s District 4, another challenger, Jennifer Bacon, led incumbent Rachele Espiritu 43 percent to 33 percent.

Olson and Bacon were supported by the teachers union, while Johnson and Espiritu are backed by reform groups that support the district’s current support of school choice. In Denver’s District 2, with no incumbent in the race, Angela Cobián, supported by pro-reform groups, lead 54 to 46 percent over Xóchitl “Sochi” Gaytán, who is endorsed by the union. And in a three-way race to represent the city at large, incumbent Barbara O’Brien, who also agrees with district reforms, lead union-endorsed challenger Robert Speth by 42.3 percent to 35.6 percent.

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Douglas County Says No to Vouchers

A slate of Douglas County school board candidates opposed to using the district as a testing ground for controversial policies such as a private-school voucher program and market-based teacher pay, claimed victory in a race that attracted national interest and big money on both sides. As of 10:41 am Wednesday, the “CommUnity slate” —Krista Holtzmann, Chris Schor, Anthony Graziano and Kevin Leung—won four seats with nearly 60 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results from the Colorado Secretary of State’s office.The CommUnity candidates were supported by the Douglas County Parents political committee and teachers unions, and focused on bringing unity to the district. Once certified, they will join three similarly-minded directors on the seven-member board, ending the control of Republican-backed candidates who launched a controversial voucher program in 2011 that has been tied up in court for years. Their opponents, known as the “Elevate Douglas County” slate, were Debora Scheffel, Randy Mills, Ryan Abresch and Grant Nelson.

Denver’s Looking Greener

Denver may be one of the nation’s first cities to require green roofs on large buildings, according to early voting results. As of 2 a.m., 52.2 percent of voters narrowly approved Denver City and County’s Initiative 300, which requires new buildings that are 25,000 square feet or larger to set aside up to 60 percent of their rooftops for green vegetation and solar panels. The initiative was an underdog in the race, where supporters were outspent nearly 12 to 1 by opponents that included the National Association of Realtors, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Denver Partnership. Opponents said the ordinance could drive up construction costs while supporters—including environmental activists and green builders—argued that green roofs could lower long-term energy consumption (and costs) while improving air and water quality. After six months, the Denver City Council has the option to repeal or change the ordinance with a two-thirds majority vote.

Denver’s Health Department Gets A New Name

Say goodbye to the Denver Department of Environmental Health. And say hello to the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment. Two-thirds of voters approved Denver’s Question 2H, with 66.6 percent voting yes for the name change and 33.4 percent voting no as of 2 a.m. The name change aligns the Denver department with its state counterpart, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and clarifies its focus on public health.The uncontroversial measure—which also increases the size of the department’s governing board to nine people from five—passed without any campaigns advocating either for or against the changes. Because the department was created by a charter amendment in 1996, however, it’s included in Denver’s constitution and can only be changed by a vote of the people.

Colorado Springs Schools Get More Funding

Colorado Springs voters passed a long awaited tax increase—the first in 17 years—for the region’s oldest and largest school district.  In unofficial results, 57 percent of voters approved Ballot Issue 3E, which creates a $42 million annual property tax increase for School District 11. Supporters raised over $500,000 to support the measure after a similar initiative to approve a property tax increase and bond issue for D-11 failed in 2016. “This is a game changer,” said Superintendent Nicholas Gledich. “[Voters’] dollars will make a difference in the lives of children.” The funds will improve buildings, increase pay for teachers and support staff, add more school nurses, reduce class sizes, and upgrade technology and school security, reports the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Jeffco Schools Moves Forward 

Three Jefferson County School Board incumbents swept their re-election races on Tuesday. The candidates were first elected during a 2015 recall vote to replace three conservative board members, and ran on a “Keep Jeffco Moving Forward” slate that maintains the district’s current direction. Since 2015, Jeffco’s five-member school board, which is supported by the teachers unions, has hired a new superintendent, extended its contract with the teachers union, awarded pay raises and closed an elementary school, reports Chalkbeat. In District 1, Brad Rupert won by 20 percentage points, claiming 60.5 percent of the vote against challenger Matt Van Gieson. In District 2, Susan Harmon beat Erica Shields with a similar lead, winning 59.6 percent of the vote. Jeffco Board president Ron Mitchell was unopposed.

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Aspen Takes a Stronger Stance on Tobacco and Cigarettes

Aspen voters easily approved a tobacco tax on Tuesday that includes a $3 tax on cigarettes and a 40 percent increase on other tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco. The $3 tax on cigarettes includes a 10-cent annual increase until it reaches $4, reports the Aspen Times. Three-fourths of voters approved the measure, which had no organized opposition. “This was not hard to sell to the council and it was evidently not a hard sell for the community,” said Aspen City Councilman Adam Frisch. The tax takes effect on January 1—the same day as city legislation that raises the age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21 years old. The tobacco consumption age is still 18.

Broomfield Tries to Take Control of Its Energy Production

Broomfield voters approved more local oversight of oil and gas operations. The hotly debated Question 301 attracted nearly $400,000 in outside contributions—most of it from the energy industry, which may still challenge the win. As of a late night tally on November 7 that accounted for most voters, the controversial oil and gas measure was ahead by a 57.5 percent yes vote over 42.5 percent who voted no. Broomfield’s measure differs from past efforts by Colorado cities to place a temporary ban on oil and gas drilling that were defeated in State courts. Question 301 does not include an oil and gas ban, but can restrict energy extraction in order to protect health, safety and the environment before drilling.

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