Denver Fall Elections 2021: Know Before You Vote

Historically, the excitement around elections usually surges during midterm and presidential election years. Odd-year elections are often left behind. Accordingly, voter participation plummets. However, increased participation in all elections could have a strong impact on Denver and Colorado’s political landscape. 

“All elections are important for making your voice heard. We treat every election with the same commitment to security, accuracy and transparency and don’t differentiate between elections for president, school board or your municipal representatives,” said Paul D. Lopez, Denver Clerk and Recorder.

Odd-year elections in Denver typically focus on local races and ballot initiatives. This year, school board races take place alongside three statewide ballot initiatives and 13 ballot measures in Denver. 

Voting should be habitual. If you felt participating in the 2020 election was important, then here’s your time to shine. Elections take place every year, giving voters more opportunities to choose their representation.

“Regular voting should be thought of as a quality of community life issue. It is important to have elected representatives you can contact with concerns about policies for your children’s education or potholes in your street,” said Lopez.

In order to prepare for the November election, you’ll want to make sure your registration is update and active and that you’re ready to vote. Here’s an elections timeline:

  • October 8-15: Ballots are automatically mailed to voters with active registrations.
  • October 11: 22-day Colorado residency deadline. This is the latest a person can move to Colorado and still be eligible to vote in the November Election. However, it isn’t the last day to register.
  • October 18: Wellington Webb Municipal Building opens as a voting location.
  • October 25: The last day to return a ballot by mail. After October 25, voters should only use official ballot drop boxes. 
  • November 2: Election Day! It’s the last day to cast your vote. All ballots must be received by Denver Elections Division by 7 p.m. If you’re voting in person, you must be in line by 7 p.m. 

Voter Checklist

Check, Update or File Your Voter Registration

First, double-check your voter registration to make sure it’s up to date. You should be registered to vote at your current address. Additionally, you should check to make sure your voter registration is active — it may need to be reactivated if you moved in between elections!

Keep An Eye Out For Your Ballot

Voters with active registrations will automatically receive a mail-in ballot. Ballots will be mailed between October 8 to 15, 2021. If you prefer to vote in person, you can find information here.

Make a Plan To Vote and Research Your Ballot

Once you receive your mail-in ballot, it’s important to make a voting plan ahead of time. You should consider how you want to return your ballot: by mail or drop box? Would you rather vote in person? You’ll want to look up your polling location. Making a plan to vote ensures you can make it to the finish line and cast your ballot. Voters who mail in their ballot or return by drop box can sign up for BallotTRACE to track their ballot.

Of course, you need to sit down and fill out your ballot. You can find a sample ballot here. This year’s ballot has a few races and 16 ballot initiatives to vote on. They have an important impact on the city and state. Below is a breakdown of this year’s ballot. 

Denver School Board

Denver elections, denver politics, Ellie Sullum

Photo by NeONBRAND via Unsplash

Districts 2, 3 and 4 will vote on a director for the Denver Public Schools Board of Education this election. Voters can also choose a candidate to fill an at-large director position. Denver’s school board takes on a host of important issues this next term. They must decide how to allocate millions of dollars in COVID-19 relief and build a new strategic plan for Denver Public Schools. The board will also have to consider whether to close or consolidate schools, as enrollment continues to decline. In recent years, DPS school board elections have been highly contentious, and this election looks no different.

What to watch for: If even one teacher’s union-backed candidate wins their election, the school board will have a majority of union-endorsed directors. Additionally, only one candidate is running for re-election. Thus, Denver has the chance to elect three new members, making up nearly half the board. School board races are nonpartisan.

Director At Large

Marla F. Benavides: Benavides is an independent contractor in the book publishing industry. She expressed concern about literacy rates in her platform.

Scott Esserman: Esserman has 20 years of experience as an educator and facilitator. He’s endorsed by the Denver Classroom Teacher’s Association. One of his main priorities is implementing the Community School Design model into DPS. This includes six guiding principles, three of which are notable: culturally relevant curriculum, inclusive leadership and restorative behavior practices.

Jane Shirley: Shirley is an educational consultant. On her platform, three main goals include maintaining an effective relationship with the superintendent, creating a shared vision for DPS strategic planning and community engagement.

Nicky Yollick: Yollick is a community organizer and active member of the local Democratic party. His priorities include achieving equity in Denver schools, partnering with educators during decision-making and transparency.

Vernon Jones Jr.: Jones is the executive director of the Northeast Denver Innovation Zone, a group of autonomous schools in DPS. He plans to bring his experience in equity-driven education and collaboration to the school board.

District 2

Southwest Denver

Xóchitl “Sochi” Gaytán: Gaytan is a small business owner, DPS graduate and parent of DPS students. She received an endorsement from the Denver Classroom Teachers’ Association. Gaytan intends to focus on transparency and accountability within DPS’ budget and increase the quality of education for students.

Karolina Villagrana: Villagrana is a longtime educator and administrator. Her priorities include increasing literacy rates, creating meaningful metrics for performance and placing an emphasis on community partnerships.

District 3

East Central Denver

Carrie A. Olson: Olson was first elected to the Denver school board in 2017 after three decades as a Denver teacher. She served as board president for the past two years and currently seeks reelection. She intends to use a second term to deepen existing relationships and increase the quality of education.

Mike DeGuire: DeGuire is a former Denver teacher and principal. He currently works as a leadership specialist. His goals include a more comprehensive approach to student performance and equitable distribution of school funding.

District 4

Northeast Denver

Michelle Quattlebaum: Working as a high school liaison, Quattlebaum is the District 4 candidate endorsed by the Denver Classroom Teacher’s Association. Her main goals involve student safety, equitable hiring and retention practices and increased access to resources.

Andrea Mosby: Mosby is a professional speaker and trainer. While her candidacy is declared, a campaign website or social media page for Mosby cannot be found.

Gene Fashaw: Fashaw is a DPS graduate and math teacher. His platform involves equity in schools and social-emotional development of students.

Jose Silva: Silva is a DPS graduate and youth advocate. Among his priorities, he remains focused on implementing comprehensive mental wellness policies and conducting a SWOT analysis before developing the board’s strategic plan. 

Colorado Ballot Measures

Regarding Colorado politics, three statewide measures are on the ballot. Each could have a significant impact on Colorado’s tax policy and the use of statewide funds. Choices for ballot measures are Yes/For or No/Against. All voters with active registration receive a 2021 State Ballot Information Booklet in the mail. Constitutional amendments require 55% approval to pass. Below is a quick summary of each ballot measure’s purpose. 

Amendment 78, Constitutional 

Amendment 78 is a state constitutional amendment requiring the CO General Assembly to decide how to allocate funds that aren’t generated from state taxes, also known as custodial funds. For example, this includes federal funding, legal settlements, grants, donations and emergency relief funds.

Currently, the state treasurer decides how custodial funds are used. That power would be transferred to the state legislature. In addition, the CO General Assembly would be required to hold public hearings about the use of those funds. Residents would be able to make public comments on funding proposals.

Proposition 119, Statutory 

Proposition 119 has a dual purpose. If passed, it creates an out-of-school education program. Out-of-school programs take place when school is not in session. The program is meant to provide learning enrichment opportunities to help children thrive and maintain a student’s academic progress year-round. Proposition 119 also establishes a Colorado Learning Authority that is independent of the State Board of Education and Colorado Department of Education. It also increases state marijuana sales taxes by 5% to fund the program. 

Voters must consider both provisions when deciding whether to pass the proposition. 

Proposition 120, Statutory

Proposition 120 is also pretty technical and also has two parts. If passed, it first reduces property tax rates from 7.15% to 6.5%. This will result in an estimated $1.03 billion in tax cuts. It also allows the state to keep $25 million above the state’s TABOR spending cap each year for five years. In Colorado, any state funds not used during a tax year must be refunded to the taxpayer. It means the state can’t save money. Some are in favor of tax refunds, and others are concerned about the consequences of not having any statewide savings for emergencies.

Denver Ballot Measures 


Photo by Kyle Cooper

Last, a record 13 City and County of Denver initiatives are on the ballot. Funding for Referred Questions 2A, B, C, D and E comes from raising the city’s debt limit. Taxes will not be raised to fund the proposed projects. Choices for ballot measures are Yes/For or No/Against. 

Referred Question 2A: City Building Improvements

The measure provides $104 million funding for city-owned building upgrades, construction of two new libraries, the renovation of an existing city-owned building into a youth empowerment center, and alteration of city-owned buildings to meet accessibility standards.

Referred Question 2B: Denver Housing and Shelters

2B allots $38 million in funding to purchase buildings and create shelters for Denver’s homeless population. It also funds the improvement of existing shelters.

Referred Question 2C: Denver Transit and Mobility

This creates $63 million in funding to repair and create sidewalks, bike lanes and traffic lanes in Denver. It also funds the reconstruction of sections of Morrison road to create a cultural arts district.

Referred Question 2D: City Parks

2D creates $54 million in funding for two new parks: one in Northeast Denver and one in South Denver. It also gives funding for the improvement of existing parks.

Referred Question 2E: National Western Campus

This measure allocates $190 million in funding to renovate the historic National Western Campus as a public market. It also funds the construction of a multi-use arena for concerts and other entertainment events at the National Western Campus.

Referred Question 2F: Repeal Ordinance 2020-0888 

The zoning ordinance in question covers a few areas: Regulating residential care facilities by size, allowing community corrections facilities to exist in mixed-use zoning districts and increasing the number of unrelated adults who live in a household from two to five. Passage of Referred Question 2F would repeal this ordinance and reverse its allowances.

Referred Question 2G: Citizen Oversight Board

The Office of the Monitor is a civilian oversight agency for Denver Police Department and Denver Sheriff’s Department. They are responsible for conducting independent investigations into each department’s conduct. If passed, 2G would amend the city’s charter to allow the citizen oversight board to appoint the independent monitor with approval from city council. It would also provide the Office of the Monitor with independent legal counsel and establish employment status for its employees. Currently, the Mayor appoints this position.

Referred Question 2H: Odd-Year Election Day

2H regards moving odd-year Election Day. If passed, it would move Denver’s odd-year general elections from the first Tuesday in May to the first Tuesday in April. Passage would bring the Denver Elections Division in compliance with federal and state laws to mail June runoff election ballots to military and overseas citizen voters 45 days before Election Day.

Initiated Ordinance 300

The Ordinance asks voters if the city should raise sales tax on marijuana, raising an estimated $7 million each year. Taxes collected fund pandemic research. The scope of the research includes spread prevention and pandemic readiness, ranging from schools, hospitals and businesses. 

Initiated Ordinance 301

Ordinance 301 requires voter approval for any future development on city parks and land designated for city conservation and protection. Voter approval is not required if the proposed development is related to park use. This allows owners and developers to develop the Park Hill Golf Course property, a highly contentious issue involving disagreements over how the property should be redeveloped.

Initiated Ordinance 302

This ordinance regards the definition of conservation easement. It proposes a definition change to only apply to projects that receive approval by the Division of Conservation. Passage allows the development of the Park Hill Golf Course property.

Initiated Ordinance 303

If passed, Ordinance 303 requires the city to enforce unauthorized camping and allow a system for private enforcement. Additionally, it allows the city to create up to four authorized camping sites. Any authorized campsites are required to have running facilities to support Denver’s homeless population. 

For context, language of this ordinance wraps around existing laws. In Denver, unauthorized camping is illegal on both public and private property. However, the city has very few authorized camps — enough for just a slice of Denver’s homeless population. Folks who experience homelessness and are forced to camp outside risk forceful removal from encampments if an enforcement mandate passes.

Initiated Ordinance 304

Ordinance 304 proposed a reduction in Denver’s aggregate sales and use tax rate from 4.81% to 4.5%. The new aggregate applies to future sales and use taxes. 


Voter and election information can be found through Denver Elections Division. You can learn more about election security and transparency here.

Updated 12:19 pm, Sept. 27, 2021 An earlier version of this article incorrectly explained Initiated Ordinance 303. It has since been updated.