Midterm voter guide: FoCo questions on elections, council pay

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Collegian | Falyn Sebastian

Serena Bettis, Editor in Chief

Fort Collins residents will vote on three city-initiated charter amendments this November. 

The charter amendments, all of which were placed on the ballot through Fort Collins City Council ordinances, ask about increasing city council member compensation, moving the date of city elections and changing the voting system used in Fort Collins.

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City elections are usually held in April in odd-numbered years; this is a special election called by the City Council through an ordinance passed May 17.

The Home Rule Charter and Code of the City of Fort Collins is the official document that dictates how the city government operates. According to the Colorado Local Government Handbook, a city charter can be amended through a petition from “at least 5% of the registered electors of a municipality” or an ordinance passed by the municipality’s governing body.

All three amendments, labeled as ballot questions, were approved and added to the ballot at the council meeting July 5.

Ballot Question 2A: Increasing City Council compensation

Charter amendment No. 1 proposes increasing City Council compensation starting in 2023 to align with the Fort Collins Area Median Income. 

According to the amendment, the median income will be based on “a single-person household for the Fort Collins/Loveland Metropolitan Statistical Area as determined and adjusted annually by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.” 

If the amendment passes, the mayor will receive 75% of the AMI, the mayor pro tem will receive 60% and all other council members will receive 50%. Based on 2022 data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the mayor would receive an annual pay of $56,400, the mayor pro tem $45,120 and council members $37,600.

Council compensation was last updated in 1997, according to the ordinance, and this amendment would reflect the increasing time commitment required of council members.

The amendment would also allow council members to opt-in to receive the same health care benefits as City of Fort Collins employees. 

At the council meeting July 5, multiple Fort Collins residents expressed support for the amendments and said it would make running for City Council more accessible, especially for younger people within the city.

Despite discussion regarding a concern that the compensation increases might be too high to appeal to voters, the council unanimously passed the second reading of the ordinance and said they would leave it up to the voters to decide.

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Ballot Question 2B: Moving the election month

Charter amendment No. 2 proposes moving city elections from April to November in odd-numbered years. 

The ordinance for the amendment, approved by a 6-1 council vote, says the move “will help accomplish increased voter participation” by aligning council elections with the coordinated county elections. 

To make the transition, the amendment would extend the term of the current council members from April to November “without altering the number of terms each may serve,” according to the amendment text.

Newly elected council members would take office on the second Tuesday of January following the election.

Ballot Question 2C: Implementing ranked choice voting

Charter amendment No. 3, which was approved by the City Council through a 6-1 vote, proposes changing the election method in Fort Collins to ranked choice voting starting in 2025. The change would only impact Fort Collins mayoral and council member elections.

Ranked choice voting allows voters to rank candidates by preference. Whichever candidate has a majority of first preference votes wins the election. If there is not a clear majority winner, the election goes into an instant runoff, and the candidate with the fewest first preference votes is eliminated. 

Those who listed the eliminated candidate as their first preference would then have their second preference taken into account, and that candidate would receive a vote. The process is repeated until there is a majority winner.

Voters are not required to list a preference for each candidate. However, if voters do not rank all candidates, their ballots are considered to be “exhausted” and do not count toward the final election outcome. 

For example, if there are 100 ballots cast, and three ballots are exhausted, the winning candidate needs to reach the majority of 97 ballots instead of 100.

Many Fort Collins residents have expressed support for this amendment, as documented in a Collegian article from September. Proponents of ranked choice voting say it will help voters feel like their votes have more weight and give more opportunity for multiple candidates to run for council and not worry about splitting votes.

Opponents of this voting method argue that it is too confusing — especially if only some races on a ballot are conducted this way — and it can silence voters who do not want to vote for multiple candidates. 

One resident at the July 5 City Council meeting also brought up concerns over how much it will cost the city to implement the new method. Fort Collins City Clerk Anissa Hollingshead said at the meeting that election costs in general vary widely, making it difficult to have an estimation of the costs.

Colorado voters should receive their mail-in ballots this week and will vote on these issues through Nov. 8.

Reach Serena Bettis at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @serenaroseb.