"Under Vote" Only Gauge of Support in Denver

May 2007
Denver's quiet election ended relatively quietly yesterday, with only three races close enough to qualify for a runoff election. As the Rocky Mountain News reports, the top dogs had little trouble holding onto their seats:
Mayor John Hickenlooper won re-election outright Tuesday, sailing toward a second term with a staggering number of votes. "The fact is, no matter what came at us, we never quit," he said. "We always worked hard. We tried to always tell the truth. And I think people care about that." In the race for the city's first elected clerk and recorder, voters overwhelmingly chose Stephanie O'Malley, daughter of former Mayor Wellington Webb. Incumbents fared well Tuesday. Auditor Dennis Gallagher trounced opponent Bill Wells. City Council members Marcia Johnson, Peggy Lehmann and Judy Montero won handily. Councilman Doug Linkhart topped the three-way race for the two at-large council seats. The other at-large incumbent, Carol Boigon, was leading challenger Carol E. Campbell for the second seat.
Niether Hickenlooper, Gallagher nor O'Malley faced serious competition, so there was no suspense in any of those races. All three won their respective seats with huge margins of victory, but if they didn't have tough opposition, how can you tell how really popular they are? The only way to really gauge true support in a case like this is by looking at the "under votes," which reflect the number of people who cast a ballot but who didn't vote for either candidate in a particular race. For example, say you cast a ballot and marked a choice for your local city council race, but you didn't like either Hickenlooper or challenger Danny Lopez; if you marked a choice for city council but did not mark a choice for mayor, then the mayoral race gets one "under vote." The Web site of The Denver Election Commission hasn't yet produced the number of total votes cast, so the numbers I'll produce in a moment won't be entirely accurate (but they'll be close). We can see from the city council at-large race that a total of 99,996 votes were cast, which is the largest number of votes cast for any particular race. Using that as a baseline, we can probably assume that at least 99,996 total votes were cast in Denver; there may be more or less total votes than that, because the at-large race likely had "under votes" as well, but you get the picture. Aside from the city council at-large race, here are the results of the four questions on the ballot that everyone in the city could have voted for: ELECTION RESULTS Mayor Danny F. Lopez (9,918/ 77,861) 12.74% John Hickenlooper (67,943/ 77,861) 87.26% Auditor Bill Wells (15,295/ 70,876) 21.58% Dennis J. Gallagher (55,581/ 70,876) 78.42% Clerk and Recorder Jacob Werther (14,030/ 64,416) 21.78% Stephanie Y. O'Malley (50,386/ 64,416) 78.22% Referred Question 1A (DA Term Limits) YES (55,598/ 72,963) 76.20% NO (17,365/ 72,963) 23.80% Now, if we assume that at least 99,996 votes were cast in Denver, here are the "under votes" for each of the four citywide ballot questions. These "under votes" aren't normally counted or tracked by election officials (not publicly, at least), but it's easy to figure out with a little simple math: just subtract the number of votes for each race from the "total" votes of 99,996: "UNDER VOTES" Mayor 22,135 Auditor 29,120 Clerk and Recorder 35,580 Referred Question 1A (DA Term Limits) 27,033 An "under vote" is basically like picking "none of the above," although that isn't an option on the ballot. It's not unusual for a ballot measure to get a lot of "under votes" because many people don't want to choose an option if they aren't familiar with the issue. That is also probably the case with the clerk and recorder seat, or it could be a reflection of voter apathy toward the idea of a clerk and recorder in general. But what is interesting is to look at the "under votes" for the top two elected officials: Mayor John Hickenlooper and Auditor Dennis Gallagher. There were a lot of Denver voters who didn't go against either incumbent - but they didn't support them, either.