Let's start with the realization that this is the final Independent before the Colorado Springs municipal election wraps up on Tuesday, April 4.
It underscores one fact that unites local candidates — they like the shorter city campaigns, as opposed to the county and state races that fill a half-year for primaries and months more for those on a November ballot. It's far simpler for this election, with only a district City Council race and three ballot questions facing each voter.
But there's a danger in the city's odd-year elections, such as now with no mayoral race to catalyze and ignite widespread interest. Apathy reigns, especially when voters are bombarded with so much negative information and innuendo aimed at specific candidates.
We've heard it perhaps more than ever during this election season. Mailers, sloppy news releases, blogs, local versions of fake news and alternative facts, mean-spirited Gazette editorials — all have littered and soiled the local scene over the past few months. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent, mainly by political action committees that don't have to name donors, yet drag their targets through the slime.
And the voters don't like it. As of last Friday, March 24, only 38,220 ballots had been returned city-wide, just 15 percent out of a possible 252,000 voters who have received mail ballots. At the same point for the 2013 city election, the total of ballots returned was 38,480, but that was almost 20 percent of the smaller voter total then.
The total did rise Monday to 44,772 ballots, or 17.7 percent. But we have nearly 54,000 more registered voters in Colorado Springs than in 2013, a 27 percent increase. If the raw vote totals stay comparable, that means the turnout will be down by 25 percent or more.
That's scary, to say the least. And from what many people have conveyed to me, people are repulsed by all the dirty, negative tactics and don't care enough to participate. For all of you who fit that description, please consider the next few points.
Apathy, or lack of interest, can and does influence local elections. For example, the 2013 state Senate District 11 recall election against Democratic Sen. John Morse attracted just 17,000 voters, or 21 percent turnout, and Morse lost his seat by a few hundred votes, with Republican Bernie Herpin prevailing. A year later, nearly 37,000 voters took part in the same District 11, and Democrat Michael Merrifield defeated Herpin by a margin of nearly 4,000.
At the city level, in April 2013, the District 4 (southeast) race mustered only 5,938 votes, far fewer than any other district — and Helen Collins surprisingly won by just 269 votes over Deborah Hendrix. This time, Hendrix and Indy-endorsed Yolanda Avila are challenging Collins ... but the turnout is running a few hundred fewer than four years ago, which has to be encouraging to Collins.
In District 5 (central), Jill Gaebler won a plurality four years ago with 5,604 votes (36 percent) out of a 15,486 total. This time she's battling against Lynette Crow-Iverson, and again, turnout is running a little behind 2013 despite huge amounts of money being spent, much of it against Gaebler. And the Gazette is injecting more poison with multiple torpedoes trying to ambush both Gaebler and Richard Skorman (District 3).
The city-wide vote total in 2013 reached 82,240, almost 40 percent then. But the same number of votes now would mean only a 32 percent turnout.
Granted, that's a lot of numbers to digest, but the point should be clear. Money and mud-slinging don't automatically translate into votes or interest. Unless people begin to wake up and participate, we could be looking at turnouts as low as 15 percent in District 4 and only in the 35 percent range for the other closely contested district races.
That's not acceptable — but it's also no excuse to ignore this city election just because you're sick and tired of the negativity.
Apathy doesn't solve our problems. Instead, apathy can produce bad outcomes, which then can drag us all down for years to come.
If you have a ballot and haven't filled it out, you have until Tuesday, April 4. At this point, you probably should drop it off at one of the 11 locations (County Clerk and Recorder offices, City Administration Building, East and 21c libraries, Southeast YMCA and Colorado Springs Senior Center).
Whatever you do, though, don't let that ballot go to waste. Don't allow the negativity to win. Don't let passive indifference define us.
Let's decide to overcome the apathy. While we still can.