Ranked-choice local voting, multilingual ballots coming to Colorado

More Coloradans could become familiar with ranked-choice voting on their local ballots and will be able to see ballots in multiple languages after the governor signed two bills into law Monday.

A few smaller cities and towns, like Basalt and Telluride, already run ranked-choice elections, but HB21-1071 directs the secretary of state’s office to create consistent rules and audits so county clerks can run ranked-choice elections starting in 2023. The law also will make it easier for bigger cities to run ranked-choice elections.

It applies to only nonpartisan municipal elections, bill sponsor Rep. Chris Kennedy said.

“This is about making a more fair process for the nonpartisan city elections where it only takes 25 signatures to get on the ballot and you end up having frequent vote-splitting,” the Lakewood Democrat said.

The law also is meant to give voters a way to choose a winner who would more likely have majority support, he added.

Critics of ranked-choice voting have worried it could be confusing for voters, with the bill garnering support from only two Republican lawmakers. Cities across the country use it for local elections, though Maine uses it statewide. New York City just used the method in its mayoral primary elections, the largest jurisdiction to do so.

Gov. Jared Polis also signed HB21-1011 to expand multilingual ballot access in the state. The new law will require the secretary of state’s office to create a hotline ahead of the November 2022 general election that will provide translation services in other languages.

The bill would also requires the secretary of state’s office and counties that meet the threshold (at least 2,000 people or 2.5% of citizens 18 and older who primarily speak another language at home or don’t speak English well, based on census data) to provide minority language sample ballots. The ballots would have to be posted online and provided at voter and polling service centers.

Before this state law passed, the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 (based on 2016 determinations) only required Conejos, Costilla, Denver and Saguache counties in Colorado to provide election materials in Spanish. Montezuma and La Plata counties were required to provide election materials in the Ute language.

The governor also signed SB21-250 last week, which made changes to online voter registration and enacted new rules for election judges.

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