FORT COLLINS — Continuing an effort she began as a state representative, Fort Collins Mayor Jeni Arndt is pushing to pass a ballot measure to implement Ranked Choice Voting in the northern Colorado city, an effort Arndt claims will bring “civility” to elections, while opponents say the change will only confuse the system and diminish meaningful representation.
The Fort Collins City Council in July referred the question to voters on the November ballot.
Ranked-Choice Voting (RCV) — also known as instant runoff voting — is a system in which voters weigh in on all the candidates running for a particular office, but rank those candidates in the order of preference.
The candidate who wins more than 50 percent of first-choice votes wins the election. If no candidate wins more than 50 percent, the candidate with the fewest-first-choice votes is eliminated and the ballots with that candidate as a first choice will have their second choice counted. This process is repeated until one candidate has a majority.
“It adds to civility in the campaign because every single person campaigning needs to talk to every single constituent,” Arndt said in a video promoting the ballot measure. “Because even if you are not their first choice, you might be their second choice.”
It is a controversial system of electing municipal officials in nonpartisan races that Arndt first started pushing in the sate legislature in 2021. After she was elected mayor of Fort Collins, and stepped down from her statehouse position, her bill — House Bill 1071 — lived on and was eventually signed by Governor Polis in 2021.
The bill allowed municipalities to refer the idea to voters to begin implementing in 2023.
Fort Collins resident Kelly Notarfrancesco opposes the idea, saying RCV eliminates the idea of representative government.
“I want to vote for who I think is going to represent me, who I think is going to best represent my personal interests,” Notarfrancesco said. “With ranked choice maybe there’s a couple people on there that I really want to vote for, but there are a couple people on there that I can not stand. I’m being forced to circle bubbles for people who I don’t want, taking away my right to vote for the one person I want.”
Notarfrancesco said it also causes confusion for the voter because they must research all the candidates to determine in what order of preference to place them.
“I don’t know what they all stand for. I don’t know much about them,” she said. “How much time do people really have to investigate however many candidates there are to be able to even make a logical decision or reasonable choice, even if they wanted to do that?”
It didn’t take Arndt long to push the idea on Fort Collins.
In fact, emails, you tube videos and other records show Arndt began working with the nonprofit Ranked Choice Voting for Fort Collins soon after she was sworn in as mayor, and just weeks after Polis signed the bill. Her apparent desire to bring RCV to Fort Collins dates back even farther, however, working with the League of Women Voters of Larimer County and other progressive organizations as early as 2019 on alternative voting methods.
Notarfrancesco believes this was never a “citizens movement,” as it’s been pitched by supporters, pointing to evidence that key players in contact with the city council over the issue were political professionals connected to national RCV movements, including:
- Ranked Choice Voting for Fort Collins Chairwoman Robbie Moreland who has ties to Fair Vote, which is funded by Arnold Ventures, a non-profit that according to its website is “dedicated to investing in sustainable change,” and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, an organization founded by the Hewlett-Packard cofounders that according to its website donates to liberal and progressive causes.
- Jody DesChenes, the co-management lead for Ranked Choice Voting for Fort Collins, is the co-founder of the local chapter of Represent Us, a national organization (also funded by other out of state non-profits) whose three focus areas are enacting Ranked Choice Voting, redistricting, and campaign finance reform.
Additionally, while some funding for Ranked Choice Voting for Fort Collins has come from local billionaire progressive activist Pat Stryker though her Bohemian Foundation, more has come through the RCV for Colorado Education Fund, which in turn has been funded by several out-of-state organizations pushing RCV on a national level.
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