Lawsuit calls on Colorado Springs to move April elections to November to address racial disparities

· Jun. 6, 2022, 3:54 pm
Colorado Springs' City Hall. May 31, 2022.Colorado Springs' City Hall. May 31, 2022.Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Colorado Springs' City Hall. May 31, 2022.

The city of Colorado Springs is facing a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination in local elections. 

The Citizens Project, Colorado Latinos Vote, League of Women Voters of the Pikes Peak Region and the Black/Latino Leadership Coalition filed the June 1 suit on the grounds that "the timing of Colorado Springs' elections for city council and Mayor massively disadvantages Hispanic and Black residents."

The groups want the city to move municipal April elections to November. Colorado Springs is one of only three cities in the state to hold municipal elections in April of odd-numbered years, according to the lawsuit.

Colorado Springs holds elections on the first Tuesday of April in odd-numbered years. 

The lawsuit says Colorado Springs' political processes are 'not equally open to participation'

The suit says non-white registered voters are about half as likely to participate in off-year April elections when compared to white registered voters, making the city's political processes "not equally open to participation" by Hispanic and Black voters. 

Mike Williams, executive director of Citizens Project, said voter turnout in November is more diverse. 

"Realistically, ongoing and historical discrimination makes it like much harder for non-white residents to participate in elections," Williams said. "Our hope with this is to make sure that the people of the city's voices are heard and they're able to vote and access the elections fairly as they should be able to."

The lawsuit says only about 16 percent of the city's non-white registered voters participate in April off-year elections. The turnout rate for white voters is 32 percent. The number of non-white voters casting ballots jumps to an average of about 64 percent during elections held in November of even-numbered years.

"The city's saying they don't want the city election to be buried in a November election, but I think that people are going to turn up and vote in November, generally speaking," Williams said. "It just would make sense for the city to capitalize on that and have all those voters really be heard at the same time."

The suit also focuses largely on representation within city government.

Over the last decade, more than 90 percent of the successful candidates for city council and mayor were white.

"The voter turnout is most diverse, realistically, in November," Williams said. "So, if 90 percent of the candidates on city council and mayor in the last 10 years have won elections in a timeframe where the BIPOC community doesn't turn out to vote, I feel like that's not really representing Colorado Springs."

Eight of the nine current members of Colorado Springs City Council are white, as is the mayor. Three city council seats and the mayor are decided with an at-large election. Williams said that leads to representation of the majority.

"By depressing this turnout, it's making it harder for minority communities to elect candidates that are responsive to their needs that represent the communities effectively," he said. 

The lawsuit says minority underrepresentation is common at other levels of the city's government, as well. Approximately 84 percent of the members of appointed board and commissions are white. 

Data from the 2021 census shows 67.9 percent of the population in Colorado Springs is white, non-Hispanic; 18 percent of the population is Hispanic or Latino; and 6.3 percent of the population is Black. 

Williams said the change would ultimately save the city money.

"The cost they have in November, they have that cost again in April because they're running an entire election," he said. "There's really not a good reason to spend taxpayer dollars on something twice when we can spend that money one time." 

City Clerk Sarah Johnson was not available to comment on the lawsuit. A spokeswoman for the city said comments cannot be made on pending litigation.

The next election for City Council seats and the Mayor will be held on April 4, 2023.

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