You may recall Colorado’s 2022 election cycle as something of a whirlwind: The ballot was crammed with gubernatorial, U.S. Senate and House races, and 11 ballot initiatives addressing issues as disparate as tax cuts and psychedelics.

One year later, things have calmed down a bit. The successor to term-limited Governor Jared Polis won’t be elected for three more years, and the next Senate race isn’t until 2026. The six Denver-area members of the U.S. Congress won’t face re-election until next year. Denver Mayor Mike Johnston, was elected this past June. And, in stark contrast to 2022, there are just two statewide ballot initiatives for voters to decide on this fall.

That doesn’t mean the choices awaiting Coloradans in the coming weeks are inconsequential. Voters statewide will be presented with a pair of measures addressing taxes, and mayoral elections will be held in a handful of cities and municipalities.

“Off-cycle elections are notoriously hard to predict,” says Phil Chen, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Denver. “Turnout is low. You don’t know what the makeup of the electorate is going to be. Even midterms are tricky to predict. Off-cycle [years] can just really be all over the place.”

Here’s what you need to know ahead of Election Day (Tuesday, November 7) about both propositions, as well as two other races to watch in the region.

Proposition HH: Reduce Property Taxes and Retain State Revenue

What you’ll see: “Shall the state reduce property taxes for homes and businesses, including expanding property tax relief for seniors, and backfill counties, water districts, fire districts, ambulance and hospital districts, and other local governments and fund school districts by using a portion of the state surplus up to the proposition HH cap as defined in this measure?”

What it means: The significant rise in housing costs in Colorado over the past several years has resulted in larger property tax bills for homeowners. If passed, Proposition HH would limit property tax increases for homes and businesses over the next 10 years. It would also grow the state budget, though, because the government would be able to retain money that would otherwise be refunded to taxpayers under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR). Those additional funds could be used for education, rental assistance programs, and reimbursements to local governments to cover the reduction in property tax revenue.

The proposition aims to cut the residential assessment rate for homeowners from 6.765 percent to 6.7 percent for taxes owed in 2024. If the measure fails, that rate would rise to 7.15 percent starting with the 2025 fiscal year. A single filer who makes up to $52,000 in adjusted gross income—which accounts for 35 percent of the state’s population—is projected to receive $31 less in TABOR refunds for 2024 and 2025 if the proposition passes. For those making between $52,001 and $103,000—another 27 percent of the population—that projected refund would be $42 lower. After that 10-year stretch, the policies implemented by the proposition could be extended with a simple majority vote from the state legislature.

Proponents of the measure argue that it brings much-needed relief to those impacted by the state’s soaring housing costs while benefiting entities like public schools. Those opposed believe the proposition enhances the state’s coffers at the expense of taxpayers, who will see reduced or eliminated future TABOR refunds.

Proposition II: Retain Nicotine Tax Revenue in Excess of Blue Book Estimate

What you’ll see: “Without raising taxes, may the state retain and spend revenues from taxes on cigarettes, tobacco, and other nicotine products and maintain tax rates on cigarettes, tobacco and other nicotine products and use these revenues to invest $23,650,000 to enhance the voluntary Colorado preschool program and make it widely available for free instead of reducing these tax rates and refunding revenues for cigarette wholesalers, tobacco product distributors, nicotine products distributors, and other taxpayers, for exceeding an estimate included in the ballot information booklet for proposition EE?”

What it means: The measure, if passed, would allow the state to keep $23.65 million in excess tax revenue that has already been collected from the sale of various tobacco and nicotine products. The funds would be spent on preschool programs. Additionally, the state would maintain the current tax rates for tobacco and nicotine products. Should it fail, that money would be refunded to wholesalers and distributors, and the tax rates on those products will be reduced to prevent future excess revenue.

The proposal is a response to a 2020 ballot measure, Proposition EE, that increased taxes on tobacco and nicotine products and which Colorado voters approved by a two-thirds majority. The tax generated more money than was forecast, so voters get to decide what happens to the excess. Proponents of Proposition II point to the victory of Proposition EE as a sign of support, cite the need for those funds to help provide free preschool to families, and say that higher taxes on tobacco and nicotine products might deter people from using them. Those against the initiative argue that it financially supports a program that is already funded to the level that voters approved in 2020.

Races of Note

Boulder Mayoral Election

Incumbent Aaron Brockett will look to hold onto his seat as he faces three challengers: Nicole Speer, Bob Yates, and Paul Tweedlie. Speer and Yates are both members of Boulder City Council, while Tweedlie, a retired software engineer, is a political newcomer.

The race is notable not only because of who is running, but how a winner will be determined. Historically, Boulder’s mayor was elected via nominations and votes from the city council, but this year marks the debut of a ranked-choice voting system, which was implemented after a successful push in 2020 to change the mayoral election process.

A ranked-choice system does what its name states: When at least three people are running for a given office, voters rank the candidates on a ballot in their order of preference. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the first-choice rankings, the candidate with the fewest first-place votes is eliminated, with those votes going to the candidate who was ranked second on the voter’s ballot. That process continues until one candidate has earned 50 percent of the vote. (Still confused? Boulder County has a helpful explainer on ranked-choice voting.)

“Even if they’re not your first-choice candidate, they may be your second choice, and the person who would have normally come in second was actually your fifth choice,” says Chen, the DU professor. “It ensures, at least in theory, that the candidate who eventually wins has the broadest base of support among the voters.”

Ranked-choice voting has gained increasing support in recent years and is generally applied in local races, though Maine and Alaska use it in state and federal elections. Earlier this year, NBC News reported that legislators in 14 states had introduced 27 bills proposing ranked-choice models.

Boulder isn’t the first city in Colorado to use ranked-choice voting. Carbondale has allowed it since 2002 (though it hasn’t had a sufficient number of mayoral candidates to implement it); Telluride and Basalt have used it since 2011 and 2020, respectively.

The format could grow in popularity: In 2021, the state legislature signed a law making it easier for cities to use ranked-choice voting in nonpartisan elections. Broomfield voters approved the system in 2021, and Fort Collins voters approved a ranked-choice system that will begin in 2025.

Douglas County School Board Election

Seven candidates are running for three districts on Douglas County’s seven-member board. Maria Sumnicht, a network and internet security professional, and Valerie Thompson, who has a background in community development, are facing off to take over the seat being vacated by the term-limited David Ray. Incumbents Susan Meek and Jason Page are pursuing re-election in their respective districts.

Meek is running against Andy Jones, an airline pilot and flight instructor. Page is hoping to keep his seat amid challenges from David DiCarlo, who has worked in sales management for communication companies, and Brad Geiger, an attorney specializing in child protection law. Page was appointed to his post after former board member Elizabeth Hanson resigned at a meeting in May; her announcement was notable because she blamed her decision on the fact that “politics and ego are the primary agenda of this board.”

School board elections have attracted more attention and become increasingly contentious in recent years. Douglas County’s 2021 school board races drew significant donations as heated debates arose around issues such as COVID-19 policies and how race is taught to students.

The board currently has a 5-2 conservative majority, with Meek and Ray serving as the two liberal members. Jones, Page and Sumnicht are running on the “Best DCSD” slate, which is ideologically aligned with the board’s conservative majority. The other four candidates are not running as part of that group.

The general election takes place on November 7. Drop boxes open on October 16, and in-person voting begins October 23; mail-in ballots must be postmarked by October 30. Register to vote here. The deadline for online voter registration for this election is October 30.

Craig Meyer
Craig Meyer
Craig Meyer is a Denver-based freelance writer. Before moving to Colorado in June 2022, he spent the previous 10 years as a sports writer with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, primarily covering college basketball and football.