Tax increases, sports betting and school board races spurred far more La Plata County residents to cast ballots in this year’s election than in 2017 – the last comparable election, said Clerk and Recorder Tiffany Parker.
Parker said 38% of voters participated, or 17,000 of the 44,678 eligible electors. In the last comparable election in 2017, 26% of eligible voters participated.
“I am ecstatic about the turnout,” Parker said.
The Clerk’s Office saw an “amazing” amount of foot traffic Tuesday, when 4,689 voters – about 27% of all voters – cast ballots, she said.
“It was pretty exceptional there for a little while,” Parker said.
The higher number of ballot questions on Tuesday’s ballot compared with 2017 likely drove interest in the election, she said. For example, the 2017 ballot didn’t have a statewide question or any question involving Ignacio.
The most recent ballot featured two statewide questions, school board races and tax increases for libraries and the Animas Mosquito Control District.
The statewide propositions especially interested voters, Parker said.
Proposition CC would have allowed the state to keep the tax revenue it collects to be used for education and transportation and no longer issue refunds to voters. The measure failed. Proposition DD would have legalized sports betting in Colorado and tax it for water conservation. The question passed narrowly, 50.73% to 49.27%.
Durango water engineer Steve Harris, who helped shape the state water plan, sees a need for the funding Proposition DD could provide Southwest Colorado. Funding for water projects has been hurt by a decline in oil and gas revenue.
“DD would get us back to the income or the funding available when severance tax was pretty good,” he said.
Proposition DD asked voters to authorize taxes to increase by as much as $29 million annually.
One Southwest Colorado water project in need of funding is Red Mesa Reservoir. The reservoir southwest of Durango needs millions in investment to pay to enlarge the spillway and possibly raise the dam, farmer Trent Taylor said.
Taylor described the new funding as a “voluntary tax” that will benefit water projects, he said.
“From my perspective, that’s pretty critical,” he said.
Campaigns for and against Proposition CC were high profile across Colorado. But the messages might have been confusing to voters because campaigns for the measure claimed it wasn’t a tax increase, while campaigns against it said it would have increased taxes, said Jean Aaro, president of the League of Women Voters of La Plata County.
La Plata County Republican Center Committee Chairman Travis Oliger said he wasn’t surprised the proposition failed because it is consistent with the state’s fiscally conservative patterns.
“We elect people, their solutions are generally to raise taxes, and then we turn around and say ‘no,’” he said.
The failure of the question might be evidence of a distrust of government, he said.
La Plata County Democrats Chairwoman Carol Cure said turnout might have been hurt by the complexities of the state ballot questions. She was disappointed by the vote on Proposition CC.
“We need to do a better job investing in our children, our schools, our roads,” Cure said.
Aaro also said improved voter education could help drive turnout and give more people the confidence to vote.
“It’s hard, I think, to take your time and weed through what it all means,” she said.