School board elections deep dive Part 4: 20% of Colorado’s school board elections were canceled

Welcome to the Wednesday, November 29, Brew. 

By: Juan Garcia de Paredes

Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. 20% of Colorado’s school board members will assume office without appearing on a ballot
  2. Local measures on election rules and flag displays on public buildings on the 2024 ballot in California
  3. Massachusetts ballot initiative campaigns on education, psychedelics, app-based drivers, and more file signatures with local clerks for the 2024 ballot

20% of Colorado’s school board elections were canceled

Ballotpedia covered every school board election in seven states on Nov. 7: Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington. We’re continuing our deep dive into election results in each of those states, focusing on endorsements, open seats, and defeated incumbents. 

Earlier this month, we looked at Minnesota and Virginia. Today, we’ll take a look at Colorado.

20% of Colorado’s school board elections were canceled

All 178 school districts in Colorado held elections on Nov. 7, with 523 (53%) of the state’s 978 school board seats on the ballot.

But, heading into the new year, of Colorado’s 978 school board members, roughly 20%—198—were elected by default.

That’s because, in Colorado, school districts can cancel their elections if there aren’t enough candidates, as was the case in 75 school districts this year.

In most cases, this means the people who filed to run automatically win election to the school board. But if nobody runs, it creates a vacancy that the board must fill before the end of the year. There were 24 such vacancies this year.

Colorado is not the only state that cancels school board elections if not enough candidates file to run. Roughly 80% of school board elections were canceled in South Dakota this year. In Oklahoma, that figure was 76%.

Most of the canceled elections in Colorado were in smaller, more rural school districts. The largest district to cancel its elections was the St. Vrain Valley School District north of Denver, the state’s seventh-largest district by student enrollment.

In addition to the 198 seats in canceled elections, there were uncontested elections for 76 seats.

Altogether, 52% of all seats up for election (274) were either uncontested or in canceled elections. The remaining 48% (249) were contested, meaning more people were on the ballot than positions available.

Most Republican-won seats were in uncontested races

Victories in uncontested races accounted for a majority of all registered Republicans elected to school boards across the state. 

Overall, Republicans won 260 seats, just under 50% of all 523 seats up for election. That total includes 139 uncontested seats, accounting for 53% of all Republican victories statewide.

Colorado’s school board elections are officially nonpartisan, but we used publicly available voter registration information to identify candidates’ partisan affiliations.

Once we have that information, we can divide the school board races into three categories:

  • Uncontested: where whoever is on the ballot is guaranteed to win. This also includes all canceled elections;
  • Contested intra-party: where the election is contested between candidates from the same party; and,
  • Contested inter-party: where the election is contested between candidates of different parties.

For both Republican and independent or minor party winners, most of those wins came in either uncontested or contested intra-party elections, at 65% and 59%, respectively.

Most Democratic wins were in contested inter-party elections, where they ran against candidates with some other party affiliation.

The average school board candidate was under 50 years old

Access to the voter file also allows us to conduct additional analyses not possible in other states. For example, Colorado makes a voter’s birth year public record.

The average school board candidate in Colorado was 48.6 years old this year. Democratic candidates were 50.3 years, on average, compared to 48.4 years old for Republicans, and 47.7 years old for independent or minor party candidates.

Angel Bujanda Gutierrez, 23, the state’s youngest school board winner this year, ran in the Lake County School District. That race was uncontested, with three seats up for election, the other two winners being incumbent Miriam Lozano, 27, and Grayson Cooper, 33.

As a result, the average age of the district’s five-member school board will drop from 49.2 to 36.6 years old.

Vance Alfrey, 81, was the state’s oldest school board winner. He and Bill Brooks, 69, both incumbents, were re-elected automatically to the Vilas School Board after the district canceled its November election.

Candidates aged 45 to 54 had the highest win rate, at 72% overall and 57% in contested elections.

Candidates aged 18 to 24 had the lowest win rate, but only three were on the ballot this year.

The next lowest was candidates aged 65 to 75, with a 64% win rate overall.

That changes when focusing only on contested elections, at which point those aged 25 to 34 have the next lowest win rate at 45%.

Here are some other top-line numbers from our report:

  • Of the 523 seats up for election, 257 were open (49.1%). That’s above the average compared to our historical, nationwide school board election data.
  • A total of 266 incumbents ran. Of those, 36 (13.5%) lost. That’s below the average of our nationwide school board election data.
  • The 36 incumbents who lost represent 29.8% of the 121 who ran in contested elections That’s above the average for previous years.
  • Overall, the incumbent loss rate in Colorado’s school board elections this year was 14%. That’s close to the average of 13% for the other states we’ve looked at.

In case you missed it, we published comprehensive analyses on three other states that held school board elections earlier this year: Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

We’ll be back in a future edition with part four of our series, where we’ll look at Pennsylvania.

Click below to read our full report on Colorado school board elections.

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Local measures related to election rules and flag displays on public buildings on the 2024 ballot in California

Let’s now shift gears and go to California, where two local ballot measures relating to debates that typically play out at the state level caught our eye. 

Voters in Huntington Beach will decide on three charter amendments on March 5, 2024, including one that would make changes to local election procedures and another that would regulate which flags are allowed to be displayed on public buildings.

Measure 1

Because states play the primary role in creating election policy, debates over changes to election administration rules often play out at the state level. Measure 1, however, would change Huntington Beach’s election procedures to:

  • Require voter identification for elections;
  • Require ballot drop boxes to be monitored for compliance; and,
  • State that, in the event of a conflict between the Huntington Beach Charter and the California Election Code, the Charter should prevail.

The Huntington Beach City Council voted 4-3 on Oct. 5 to send Measure 1 to the ballot.

Ahead of the council vote, California Attorney General Rob Bonta (D) and Secretary of State Shirley Weber (D) sent a letter to the City of Huntington Beach that said Measure 1 would conflict with state law and suppress voter participation without a discernible local benefit. Bonta said, “Huntington Beach’s proposed amendment violates state law and would impose additional barriers to voting. If the city moves forward and places it on the ballot, we stand ready to take appropriate action to ensure that voters’ rights are protected.” 

Weber said “voter ID requirements at the polls have historically been used to turn eligible voters away from exercising the franchise, especially low-income voters and voters of color. Not only is the action unlawful, it is also unnecessary because California already has guardrails in place for establishing both eligibility of each voter and for confirming their identity when returning their ballot.”

In response to the letter, Huntington Beach City Attorney Michael Gates said, “How Huntington Beach votes in its election and what verification it requires is not a matter of statewide concern. [Bonta is] demonstrably overreaching and undermining what it means for a state law to be a matter of statewide concern.”

Huntington Beach Mayor Tony Strickland (R), who supports Measure 1, said the amendment was about election security. Strickland said, “Our democracy does not work if people do not have faith in the election results. Anytime you can put safeguards in I think it’s important to do so people have faith in our election outcomes.”

With a population of 192,605, Huntington Beach was the 132nd largest city in the U.S.

Measure 2

Measure 2 would prohibit the City of Huntington Beach from displaying flags on city property without a unanimous vote of the city council. The measure provides an exemption for the flags of the U.S., California, Orange County, and Huntington Beach, as well as the POW-MIA flag, Armed Forces flags, and the Olympic flag during the Summer Olympic Games. The council voted 4-3 on Oct. 5 to send the measure to the ballot.

Former Mayor Connie Boardman (D), who opposes the charter amendment, said the proposal is related to the city’s previous decision to fly an LGBTQ pride flag. “This is about flying the Pride Flag at City Hall in June and making it as hard as possible for any future council to do that,” Boardman said.

According to the Gilbert Baker Foundation, “Since 2022, more than 15 communities and school departments across the country, … have passed regulations to remove all Rainbow Flags. They include cities and towns from NY to California, including Cold Spring, NY; Stoughton, MA; Davis, UT; Newburg, OR; Morgantown, WV; and Huntington beach CA.”

Councilmember Pat Burns, who proposed Measure 2, said, “The flags that we have that represent our governments is what is important to unify us. It has nothing to do with segregating. It’s recognizing that we are one.”

Ballotpedia is covering all local ballot measures in California for elections on March 5. In 2020, we identified 293 local measures that were on the March 3 California ballot. Of the 293 local measures, 128 were approved, and 165 were defeated.

To read more about California’s 2024 local ballot measures, click the link below. 

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Massachusetts ballot initiative campaigns on education, psychedelics, app-based drivers, and more file signatures with local clerks for the 2024 ballot

Staying on the subject of ballot measures, let’s shift our focus to Massachusetts, where supporters of ballot initiatives on education, psychedelics, tipped workers, app-based drivers, and state auditor responsibilities filed signatures with local clerks to qualify those measures for the 2024 ballot.

The deadline to file signatures with local clerks to qualify an initiative for the 2024 ballot was Nov. 22. 

Process to get initiatives on the ballot

In Massachusetts, initiated state statutes are indirect, meaning citizens propose the statutes, and the state legislature has an opportunity to adopt them before they move to a popular vote. Here’s how the process works: 

  • Campaigns must submit signatures to local registrars of voters two weeks before the first Wednesday in December of the year before the targeted election year. This year, that date was Nov. 22.
  • Local registrars of voters must submit certified signature petitions to the secretary of state by the first Wednesday in December (this year, that’s Dec. 6). At least 74,574 valid signatures must be filed with the secretary of state for the Legislature to consider the ballot initiative in 2024. This number equals 3% of votes cast for governor in the most recent gubernatorial election, excluding blanks. Massachusetts also has a distribution requirement that requires that at most 25% of the certified signatures on any petition can come from a single county.
  • If the Legislature does not adopt a statute by the first Wednesday in May of the election year (May 1, 2024), proponents must collect an additional round of signatures to qualify it for the general election ballot. The signatures collected in this round must equal 0.5% of the votes cast for governor in the most recent gubernatorial election, excluding blanks. For 2024, that number is 12,429 signatures.

2024 ballot initiatives

Here’s an overview of the initiatives campaigns reported filing signatures for:

  • Massachusetts Repeal Competency Assessment Requirement for High School Graduation Initiative: Would repeal the requirement that students must achieve a certain competency level on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) exam to graduate high school. The Massachusetts Teachers Association submitted more than 130,000 signatures for the initiative. 
  • Massachusetts Regulated Access to Psychedelic Substances Initiative: Would regulate access to psychedelic substances. The campaign behind the initiative reported submitting more than the required number of signatures to local clerks. New Approach PAC, the largest donor to a 2020 Oregon ballot initiative that legalized psilocybin for adults,, is supporting the initiative.
  • Massachusetts Minimum Wage for Tipped Employees Initiative: Would increase the wage of tipped employees until it meets the state minimum wage in 2029 and would permit tipping in addition to the minimum wage reported. Currently, the base wage for tipped workers in Massachusetts is $6.75, but the law requires that, with tips, workers must make $15 per hour. Proponents of the initiative reportedly filed signatures with the local registrars.
  • Massachusetts Authorization of State Auditor to Audit General Court Initiative: Massachusetts State Auditor Diana DiZoglio (D) is sponsoring a ballot initiative to authorize the state auditor to audit the Legislature and remove some existing regulations regarding the auditing process. The campaign reported submitting more than 100,000 signatures to local clerks.

Massachusetts may also have two questions on the ballot regarding app-based drivers: 

The Massachusetts Constitution provides that if two conflicting measures are approved, the measure with the most affirmative votes supersedes the other on any points of conflict—but it does not wholly supersede it. 

Between 2010 and 2022, an average of 29 ballot initiatives were filed, with an average of three measures ultimately qualifying for the ballot. Fifty-two (52) initiatives were filed for the 2024 ballot—the most over the last six election cycles. Six reported meeting the first signature deadline on Nov. 22. 

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