Commentary & Analysis

Ending Polarization in Broomfield, Colorado

In 2020, CES opened up our first ever Request for Proposals for groups seeking grants to run approval voting campaigns. This article is part of a series in which RFP applicants introduce themselves and explain why their community needs approval voting.

Author: Marcus Ogren, Rocky Mountain Approves

Broomfield isn’t the largest city in Colorado, and the majority of people reading this probably haven’t heard of it (it’s a tad northwest of Denver). But it is where approval voting would make the biggest difference, and here’s why.

Plurality voting has played a major role in limiting Broomfielders’ choices and weakening the mandates of the eventual winners. In every single race for city council or mayor in the past decade, either:

  • The race was uncontested,
  • There were exactly two candidates,
  • Or the winner didn’t get a majority.

All of these things are problematic. In the first two cases, the voters don’t have enough options for there to be a thriving, competitive democracy. In the final case, two issues can arise. Sometimes, the vote totals don’t reflect the true amount of support for the winner, meaning that the winner has less of a mandate to govern and actually get things done in office. In another, even worse scenario, the wrong person gets elected due to vote-splitting. 

Vote-splitting and two-candidate races are two sides of the same coin; potential candidates who may or may not be widely popular are discouraged from running for fear of playing a spoiler role. And vote-splitting can be very serious in Broomfield. In the last mayoral election the winner received only 36% of the vote in a three-way race.

Today, Broomfield is divided primarily on the issue of whether to support oil and gas development. Most candidates can be clearly labeled as either pro-fracking or anti-fracking with relatively little room in the middle.

Approval voting can change this. It won’t remove the existing factions, but it will open the door to more voices. Without the fear of the spoiler effect, there will be more candidates, representing more ideologies.

We don’t know what new candidates we might see under approval voting. Perhaps some will be moderates on oil and gas development. Some may run on issues that are routinely neglected by city council. Some may take radical positions and appear unelectable—but with approval voting the appearance of unelectability won’t be a self-fulfilling prophecy, and even the candidates who lose will see an honest measure of their support.

With approval voting, the winners will be more representative. Unpopular candidates won’t win because of vote-splitting, and the winners will be the candidates with the broadest support. It will be easier to win as a widely-respected centrist.

Approval voting will encourage more positive campaigning—candidates won’t have to convince Broomfielders not to vote for their opponents in order to vote for them. Altogether, this should result in less polarized and more constructive governance.

Approval voting won’t resolve Broomfield’s issues on its own, but it will lead to a government that’s better able to address them.

Marcus Ogren
Rocky Mountain Approves

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CES wants to fund as many of these approval voting campaign proposals as possible in 2021. But that all depends on how much funding we’re able to bring in before the end of the year. Want to make sure we can support the movement for approval voting in Broomfield? Make your gift today to support these local advocates.