Elections officials in Douglas and Jefferson counties are estimating slightly higher returns than usual during this “off-year” election, perhaps because of increased political interest in non-partisan school board races.

Josh Liss, deputy of elections for Jefferson County, said nearly 67,000 ballots had been returned as of Wednesday. In 2007 and 2009, about 95,000 voters cast ballots.

“Typically, we tend to see about 30 percent of our total returns on Election Day,” Liss said. “So we could be right on pace for 95,000 – I think we’re going to go over.”

Liss said increased attention to the Jefferson County school board races may be spurring the returns.

This year, Jeffco’s Republican Party is actively promoting two candidates with efforts including “Red October,” a Get Out the Vote drive featuring phone banks at GOP headquarters from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.

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“It’s sort of a groundswell of activity in the community,” said Don Ytterberg, Jeffco’s Republican Party chair. “People who would like to have a voice, who are on the conservative side, don’t feel they have had that because the races have been organized largely by the education community.”

Ytterberg said it’s the first time “in a long time” that the GOP has been active in the school board elections, though he was hesitant to say it was the party’s first-ever foray into board contests.

In Douglas County, the Republican Party became active in 2009 school board elections – a year that saw a record turnout for school board contests in recent years.

Ytterberg said Jeffco’s GOP activity does differ from that in Dougco.

“We did not take the same action as Douglas County did,” he said. “We did not put forth a slate of candidates as a party but certainly, as a party, we are supporting the candidates who have emerged.”

Political backing sparks official complaint

In Douglas and Jefferson counties, school board members represent geographic areas but they are elected countywide.

In 2005 and 2007 in Douglas County, no more than 31,000 ballots were cast in a single school board race.

But in 2009, when Dougco’s Republican Party endorsed a slate of four candidates, the number of votes cast in each of four board contests topped 45,000.

Douglas County Clerk and Recorder Jack Arrowsmith said 31,650 ballots had been returned as of early Thursday. He projected another 15,000 by Election Day, with the biggest jump on Tuesday, to put total votes in excess of 46,000.

Complaint filed

“So I think there is a pretty good chance that we will match our 2009 numbers and perhaps surpass it by end of day on Tuesday,” Arrowsmith said.

This year, Dougco’s Republican Party is again active, with one mailer titled “Vote for the Republican candidates” above photos of three candidates and depicting what’s labeled as an “official ballot for the Republican Party.”

That prompted candidate Susan Meek to file a formal complaint this week with the Secretary of State’s Office, citing a violation of state statute that says, “A candidate for the office of school director shall not run as a candidate of any political party for that school directorship.”

The office found no violation because that particular statute governs how candidates get on the ballot and not how they campaign.  In other words, school board candidates are not nominated by a political party and there’s no party affiliation – no “R” for Republican, for example – attached to their names on the ballot.

Meek was directed to the district’s attorney office if she wanted to pursue a complaint about knowingly making false statements in a political mailer. She said today she’s undecided about whether she’ll do so.

Ballot totals, no predictions for Denver

Voter turnout is typically lower in “off-year” or “odd-year” elections because there are no presidential or congressional races to drum up interest.

Party of registered voters
  • Denver – 52% Democrat, 28% unaffiliated, 18% Republican
  • Douglas County – 51% Republican, 28% unaffiliated, 21% Democrat,
  • Jefferson County – 37% Republican, 32% Democrat, 30% unaffiliated

*Active voters as of Sept. 30, Secretary of State’s Office

Colorado saw an “off-year” turnout record in 2005 when 49.8 percent of the state’s 2.3 million eligible voters cast ballots. That was the year that two well-publicized and controversial statewide budget measures – known as Ref C and D – were on the ballot.

There were no statewide ballot measures in 2007 and 2009. This year, there’s just one – Proposition 103, which would boost education funding by raising state sales and income taxes for five years.

In Denver, voters also are being asked about ensuring paid sick time for employees, along with selecting three school board members.

As of Wednesday, slightly over 49,000 ballots had been returned and marked valid by the city’s elections division. Spokesman Alton Dillard declined any assessment of possible total voter turnout by 7 p.m. Tuesday.

In prior “off-year” elections, votes cast in Denver’s at-large citywide school board races ranged from 79,000 in 2005 to 72,000 in 2009.

In this year’s other two Denver school board contests, board members are elected by voters residing in a geographic area.

In the District 1 southeast Denver race, 12,777 ballots were returned and marked “accepted” as of Wednesday. In 2007, the most recent election for that seat, 18,600 votes were tallied.

And in the District 5 northwest Denver race, 7,738 ballots were returned and accepted as of Wednesday. In the most recent contest in that area, in 2007, 10,900 ballots were counted.