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Denver Election Results
November 2, 1999
by Floyd Ciruli
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Denver voters in November continued their tradition of supporting local bond projects for major facilities. In a sweep of surprising proportions, major building projects for the Denver Art Museum, Denver Zoo and the Colorado Convention Center were approved in the November 2, 1999 election.

Transportation led the Denver ballot with victories for light rail and highway projects. Denver voters joined state and metro voters in overwhelming approval of Governor Owens' highway proposal and RTD's TABOR override bonds.

Denver Ballot Initiatives
Denver's ballot initiatives began with some political liabilities. The city had a significant tax surplus, and two of the proposals, the Zoo and Art Museum, required property tax increases. Early polling indicated that voters thought the ballot was crowded with proposals and that transportation was the top priority. But by election day momentum built for what Mayor Wellington Webb called a "grand slam."

Denver Election Results
Yes No Total
# % # % #
RTD 57,747 73 21,507 27 79,254
Zoo 51,997 66 26,529 34 78,526
DPS TABOR 51,628 67 25,206 33 76,834
TRANS 51,171 66 26,876 34 78,047
Cable TV 48,625 64 27,118 36 75,743
Art Museum 47,657 61 31,015 39 78,672
Conv. Center 43,192 55 35,305 45 78,497

TRANS Highways Denver's mostly Democrat voters approved a Republican Governor's proposal on highways. Support reflected the plan's benefits for Denver drivers, the lack of new taxes associated with it and a well-orchestrated campaign that united Governor Bill Owens and Mayor Wellington Webb.
Light Rail Denver voters have a record of supporting transit. They even supported the doomed 1997 RTD tax. This proposal especially favored Denver by linking the city's business district with the Tech Center along I-25. Potential opposition was minimized by a less conspicuous RTD Board, no new taxes and support from the governor.
Convention Center Convention Center expansion supporters expected a difficult election due to lack of awareness or interest in the economic benefits of tourism, and low interest in boosting the economy during a boom. Also potentially controversial were the high price tag, which had grown from $160 million to $268 million, and the center's close association with a $50 million private hotel subsidy. The campaign focused on the low tax impact and good jobs for Denver residents. The expansion had the support of most of the political, business and media establishment and benefitted from a generally positive voting environment and minimal opposition.
Art Museum The Art Museum's proposal for a new building overcame low public awareness and lack of early support by activating its local membership base, receiving strong newspaper support and airing a creative television campaign focused on works of art in storage. The opening of a popular exhibit of Impressionist masters in September was also an attention grabber.
Denver Zoo The Zoo had to convince voters its substantial building proposal was needed and that parking concerns were addressed. Emphasis was placed on showing voters what they would receive: new exhibits and education benefits for children. Dramatic animal photographs were used in a campaign built around a "vote for the animals" theme that included a jingle.
Cable Franchise Cable companies often have difficulty winning franchise elections. As unregulated monopolies, voters frequently behave as consumers and use elections to protest price, service or lack of competition. Complicating the issue in 1999 was a pending battle between cable and other Internet providers over access to cable lines. The Denver cable franchise renewal benefitted from the AT&T merger with TCI, which raised consumer optimism that the merged companies would perform better. US West and rival Internet providers dropped out of active opposition ensuring that the cable company's message would be uncontested. The campaign spent a record $2 million in a strategy to gain endorsements and emphasize local investments in cable infrastructure and schools.
Denver Public Schools Denver Public Schools ran a below-radar TABOR override election and received two thirds approval. The post-busing era has given DPS an image of possibility. Voters were optimistic that school improvements will continue with a new superintendent, new Board members and a pay-for-performance proposal.

Tracking Poll
A Denver tracking poll conducted during the final two weeks of the campaign showed increasing support for the Zoo and Art Museum; the Convention Center reached a high on Wednesday Oct. 26 but declined to 55 percent on Friday Oct. 29.

Election results for the Zoo and Art Museum reflected final weekend momentum that increased the Zoo's tally from 60 percent to 66 percent and the Art Museum's from 54 percent to 61 percent on election day. After an initial midweek surge the Convention Center settled in at 55 percent and stayed there.

Cable renewal had only a 37 percent to 34 percent advantage on Friday, and a high undecided (29%). It went on to carry nearly all the undecided on election day and win with 64 percent.

Denver Voter Turnout Election
Year Type # of
Voters
1993 November 33,430
1995 November 64,891
1995 Mayoral Election 92,213
1997 November 64,946
1999 Mayoral Election 49,158
1999 November 49,158
Ciruli Associates 1999
Turnout
November voter turnout was 70 percent higher than turnout in the Mayor's election earlier in the year. The record off-year vote happened despite the Denver Election Commission's failure to implement mailback voting. A major factor effecting turnout was the more than $3 million spent on the four Denver ballot issue campaigns, a substantial portion of which was used to identify supporters and generate turnout.

Election Factors
There were a number of factors that contributed to the final sweep of ballot issues in Denver:

  • The strong Denver economy put people in a positive frame of mind. Voters associated some of the city's recent good fortune with its previous willingness to invest in infrastructure, job creation and quality of life projects.

  • Investments at the start of the decade for the airport, library, Colorado Convention Center, parks, roads and cultural and entertainment facilities are now associated with Denver's economic rebirth.

  • Along with Boulder and the mountain resort communities, Denver is among the state's most liberal locales, especially in it's tolerance for government spending. The city's political leadership — the Mayor and City Council — while cautious on new taxes, believe in activist government, and initiated and strongly supported the bond projects. The popular Mayor, in particular, used his strong local organization to gather endorsements and money and mobilize workers for campaigns.

  • Leading business organizations allied with the political establishment to help win the elections. Businesses continued their track record since the mid-80s of vigorously advocating economic development-oriented projects, even if they require increased government spending and taxes.

  • Denver is growing with middle and upper income residents, many fleeing the long commutes from the suburbs, who seek gentrified urban living and support civic investments that will improve transportation and quality of life.

  • The city's voters in general are more supportive of cultural facilities than they are of sports or purely economic development projects. The Zoo and Art Museum did much better than the Convention Center or football stadium (1998).

  • Strong support for transportation proposals elevated other issues. The public's number one concern was solving the congestion problem; they voted for both highways and light rail. People favoring public investments came out to vote. Their positive frame of mind positioned them to support other issues on the ballot.

The final 1999 election environment produced across-the-board support from the political class, neighborhood activists, business leaders and media. There was no organized opposition to any of the local ballot issues. And finally, of the more than $3 million dollars spent on campaigns for Denver's four ballot issues, a significant portion was spent during the last week on positive media and get-out-the-vote efforts.

Voting Patterns
The pattern of support and opposition for the initiatives among Denver's voting districts reflects several dynamics: conservative and liberal voter dispositions, larger turnout in areas with more longtime residents, higher incomes and education and highly contested local races. The following chart uses legislative districts to describe support for the Zoo and Convention Center.

  • All areas of the city supported the Zoo. Its highest level of support, 74 percent, came from District 6 (Country Club, Congress Park, Cherry Creek, Hilltop) and District 8 (City Park), and the lowest level of support, 58 percent, from District 1(far southwest).

    The Zoo carried its surrounding neighborhoods with overwhelming margins: 74 percent (District 8, City Park) and 70 percent (District 7, Park Hill east of Holly).

  • The Convention Center expansion received 11 percentage points less than the Zoo. The difference was generally distributed evenly among the city's precincts. The expansion lost District 1 in far southwest Denver, along with absentee voters. It ran poorest in the city's west side and best in the central, southeast and northeast areas.

    Denver Zoo and Convention Center Precinct Results
    November 2, 1999
    Support
    Precincts/Area/Legislator Zoo Total
    Votes
    Zoo Conv.
    Ctr.
    101-144 Far Southwest (Coleman) 6,833 58% 46%
    201-237 Far West (Leyba) 3,899 63% 51%
    301-320 Central Southwest (Veiga) 2,820 64% 53%
    401-440 Northwest (Mace) 5,809 63% 51%
    501-536 North, Downtown (Chavez) 4,547 70% 58%
    601-654 Country Club, Hilltop, Lowry (Grossman) 10,237 74% 63%
    701-743 Park Hill east of Holly, Montbello (Clarke) 5,985 70% 59%
    801-847 City Park (Tate) 6,813 74% 63%
    901-954 Central Southeast (Gordon) 9,199 71% 56%
    1001-1052 Far Southeast (Gotlieb) 8,698 70% 59%
    99997-99999 Absentee 13,603 54% 47%
    Total 78,443 66% 45%
    Ciruli Associates 1999

  • The largest voting districts were in the south and central parts of the city. The Guzman vs. Montero school board race increased turnout in northwest Denver.

  • A substantial number of persons voted with absentee ballots (17%). Absentee voters tend to be more fiscally conservative and, as do early voters, miss final campaign advertising and momentum. They uniformly gave lower levels of support to Denver bond issues. (Absentee support: Zoo 54%, Convention Center 47%, DAM 48%).

History of Denver Support For Civic Investments

Summary
Denver Tax Elections
1985 - 1999
Won Lost
Proporty Taxes 22 1
Sales Taxes 8 2
General Fund - 2
Airport 1 -
Lodging/Car Rental 1 -
Gas Taxes 1 1

33 6
The table on page 7 details Denver election results from 1985 to 1999 for local, regional and state proposals with a tax component.

While there have been some notable defeats such as the Convention Center location election of 1985, the baseball stadium in 1990 and Denver Public School's mill levy of 1995, over the last 15 years Denver voters have supported local civic investments. Eighty-five percent of tax-related elections were approved.

This is the second successive election in which Denver voters have approved bond projects. In 1998, voters approved a series of neighborhood bonds totaling $99 million, DPS funding and a new football stadium. This year voters approved $394 million in bonds for Convention Center expansion, Art Museum and Zoo, as well as dedicated funding for light rail and highways. Have Denver voters reached their tolerance for new taxes and debt, or are there still projects voters will support in 2000? That is the debate among Denver's civic leaders as talk already turns to the next priority projects in need of public support.

Denver City Election April 1999

The Scientific and Cultural Facilities District

©2000 Ciruli Associates.
All rights reserved.