Ah, fall. Crisp days, colorful leaves, apples, and pumpkins. And, on campus, smiling women and men with clipboards asking us if we are registered to vote.
Yes, there is an election approaching. As always, the presidential race gets the most attention, as well as races for the U.S. Senate (we are electing one of our two U.S. senators in Colorado this year) and the U.S. House (Colorado elects all seven of our representatives every two years). But there are many more races and issues to vote on. Let’s look, as they say, “down the ballot.”
Colorado State Election
Colorado, like many states, holds elections for statewide offices in non-presidential election years. We will elect a new Governor two years from now, in 2018. But this year we will elect all 65 members of the State House of Representatives, who serve 2 year terms; and we will elect about half of the 35 members of the State Senate, who serve staggered 4 year terms.
Colorado legislative elections will be closely watched this year. For the past two-year session, we have had a “divided” legislature. Democrats had a 34-31 majority in the House, and Republicans had an 18-17 majority in the Senate. How these numbers change could make a big difference in state law and policy.
Why should we care about state government? Our legislature creates the state budget, makes decisions about taxes, funds Medicaid and other social services, funds and makes policy for K-12 education, funds our system of higher education, manages transportation and corrections, addresses key environmental issues, and makes policy on an extremely wide variety of issues. I’ll bet that at least one (and probably a lot more) of these matters affects your everyday life.
And finally, this being Colorado, we have initiatives and referenda on the ballot. This year we have nine state ballot initiatives, and we have three additional ballot measures in Larimer County. We’ll discuss these next time.
City, County Elections
We all live in counties, and most of us live in cities. Like many cities, Fort Collins holds elections in the spring. We elect the city council and the mayor during the first week in April.
We have two important Larimer County races this year. We will elect two of our three county commissioners. Three elected commissioners manage the business affairs of the county, apportioning and levying taxes and overseeing the organization and budgeting of all county programs. These county programs include everything from public health, human services, roads, and corrections, to elections, economic development, and emergency management. A commissioner serves a four-year term; a candidate runs from one of three geographic districts, but everybody in the county votes on all three commissioner spots.
In Colorado there are always a bunch of judges on the ballot. “What’s the deal?” my students always ask. States pick their state and local judges in various ways. Some states elect their judges. In Colorado we use the “appointment-retention method.” Judges are appointed by the governor, but then after two years we vote whether to “retain” them. A panel of lawyers evaluates the judges and recommends whether they should be retained. These recommendations are included in the “Blue Book” mailed out by the state to all registered voters.