Our brand-new Boulder City Council majority has been in office less than one year and already wants to dramatically change Boulder for the worse and grab more power at the same time. This majority of self-proclaimed “progressives” has yet to hold an in-person meeting with the public, but they seem perfectly comfortable tinkering with the basic political infrastructure that has helped make Boulder one of the best places to live in the world — our odd-year election cycle.
Like most cities in Colorado and throughout the United States, Boulder holds its city council elections in odd-numbered years and has done so since at least 1937. Boulder’s odd-year elections have always been non-partisan, which helped create the city that we know and love today, the city routinely voted one of the finest in America. Why? Because holding elections in odd-numbered years has enabled a diverse group of voices to serve our city over the years, regardless of political affiliation – democrat, republican, or independent.
A move to even years could change this for the worse. During even-year elections like this year, we vote on partisan state and federal elections, including for state legislators, governors, Congress and the president. Even year elections would greatly increase partisan identification of candidates through yard signs, campaign events and coordination. Even year elections would further degrade and dumb-down local politics. We should keep Boulder odd.
Even with supposedly non-partisan races we have seen the rising influence of party politics. In the 2021 election, one slate of candidates self-identified as “progressive democrats.” If council elections are moved to the indisputably partisan even-year cycle, this trend will become even more pronounced. I have been a registered Democrat for years, but I still value the non-partisan nature of the Boulder City Council and I appreciate that Boulder has voted for the best ideas, not the best party.
Boulder’s odd-year council election cycle has allowed our community to “think locally” and to focus on the qualifications and positions of each candidate, rather than their party affiliation. During even years, the ballot is crowded with statewide and national races and decisions. The important odd-year focus on local elections will be greatly diminished. It is troubling that this out-of-the-blue proposal comes from an inexperienced council majority that has barely warmed the chair cushions, yet seems eager mess with Boulder’s fundamental political structure.
It is true that more people tend to vote in even-year elections, but does this mean that Boulder voters are “disenfranchised” in odd-year elections as some — including Council Member Matt Benjamin — have suggested? No. This is a fallacious argument. Ballots are sent to all registered voters in Boulder in both even and odd years. The only difference is that fewer ballots are returned in odd years.
Disenfranchisement is defined as “the state of being deprived of a right or a privilege, especially a right to vote.” If someone were disenfranchised, then they would not be permitted to vote in an election. This is not what is happening in Boulder where all registered voters have equal opportunity to participate in every election — even and odd years.
The even-year election proposal will also ask Boulder voters to give council members an extra year in office. Four years just isn’t enough apparently. Moving council elections to even years would create a complicated transition period, and some current council members have suggested that they could happily serve for an extra year as a result. Council Member Mark Wallach, offering some integrity into the discussion, said he would resign instead.
Boulder’s formula for long term success relies on steady, wise and occasionally visionary leadership. It also relies on individuals who are committed to this community. Why is our new city council so focused on changing our proven election processes and injecting partisanship? It looks a lot like “progressive democrats” seeking to consolidate power.
Mayor Aaron Brockett — the senior leader of our first-year junior varsity, yet to-meet-in-person, city council majority — should think hard about where he and his colleagues are taking us. Boulder has been well served by odd-year city council elections and by avoiding partisan politics. We should take great care before trashing the political structure that helped make Boulder… Boulder. Tell city council to keep Boulder odd.
Peter Mayer is a PLAN-Boulder County Board co-chair. Peter Mayer, firstname.lastname@example.org