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League of Women Voters of Boulder County
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A Better Way to Report Election Contest Results: Part 1 - Boulder County’s Multi-Winner Contests

Celeste Landry, Mark Parsons, and Neal McBurnett | Published on 12/5/2023

Look in the February 2024 Voter for Part 2, explaining the need to apply the practice presented here (of reporting results as a percentage of ballots) to all contests, and how this practice enhances election security and helps us to better understand the electorate’s opinions.

"Candidate vote counts in multi-winner plurality contests should be reported as a percent of ballots for better public understanding of support for candidates."  So says our updated LWVBC’s Voting Methods position.  In the November election, Boulder County had 4 multi-winner contests: Boulder Council, Lafayette Council, Superior Home Rule Charter Commission and a vote-for-up-to-2 contest for Louisville Council Ward 3.  

Let’s look at the bar graphs of these multi-winner contests.  Boulder County Elections included the number of votes for each candidate.  You can see those numbers at the Elections website here.  In the graphs below, blue indicates the current reporting (by percent of votes) and red indicates the reporting (by percent of ballots) recommended by our updated position.


2023 boulder council


Total Ballots: 34,249      Average Votes/Ballot: 3.31      Total Votes: 113,379

Tara Winer was on most endorsement lists, even for factions seen as ideologically opposite.  When she wasn’t endorsed, she at least wasn’t actively opposed by any known organization.  No wonder she was selected by 62% of voters; notably, it’s the highest percentage any Boulder municipal candidate has received in at least the last six elections. 

Only three other candidates can be seated, despite a very close contest between the next four vote-getters.  Terri Brncic, who lagged her nearest competitor by 47 votes, did not prevail.   You can see that the margin is so close that Brncic and Ryan Schuchard are reported as having the same percent (rounded to the nearest tenth).  Reporting as a percent of ballots helps make the slight vote difference between the two candidates more visible.  A recount was held in this contest because the margin of victory was so tight.

Total Ballots: 11,357      Average Votes/Ballot: 2.83      Total Votes: 32,124

The Lafayette City Council race shows how reporting by percent of ballots really shines in comparison to reporting by percent of votes.  From the current reporting (blue bars), you can’t tell that the top-three vote-getters are supported by a majority of the voters.  This “mandate” is clear with the red bars.  Those three candidates each receive a 4-year term.  The 4th-highest vote-getter receives a 2-year term.  Given how close the 4th- and 5th-highest vote-getters are, maybe there will be a rematch in two years.   

Since the average number of votes per voter was only 2.83, if more people had voted for the maximum-allowed 4 candidates, then the order of the 4th- and 5th-highest vote-getters could easily have switched or the margin of victory could have widened.

2023 Superior cahrter

Total Ballots: 4,165      Average Votes/Ballot: 4.44      Total Votes: 18,487

Superior’s candidate contest was the 2nd part of a 2-part question.  The voters approved the 1st part of the question (Ballot Question 301) to create a Home Rule Charter Commission with 2,372 votes or 63% of the vote.  This equates to 57% support of voters (represented by ballots cast), due to 376 Superior ballots not weighing in on the Ballot Question 301.  Either way of reporting the results indicates a strong mandate for moving forward with the home rule process. 

The nine people elected will write a home rule town charter for adoption or rejection by the electorate at a future election.  Only upon a charter’s adoption does a municipality become home rule.  Writing a charter is an important and historic task.  Yet, we can see that the average votes/ballot was only about half of the maximum-allowed votes in the contest and no candidate received a majority of support from the electorate. Unlike the Boulder and Lafayette council contests above, not a single candidate received a “mandate” from the voters.    

2023 Louisville ward 3
Total Ballots: 3,243      Average Votes/Ballot: 0.9148      Total Votes: 2,967

Do you notice a big difference between the Louisville Ward 3 bar graph and the three bar graphs above?  Look at the colors. Unlike the others, in the Louisville graph the blue bars are longer than the red bars.  Why is this?

Although this is a vote-for-up-to-2, it’s not a simple multi-winner contest.  Look at the ballot language:

louisville ballot language

Voters knew that both candidates would get elected, since there were only 2 people in the contest.  If there had been 3 or more candidates, then a lot more voters would have chosen two candidates.  

With only 2 people in the contest, the only question was – who should get the longer term?  This situation effectively turned a multi-winner contest into a single-winner contest.  For single-winner contests, Plurality “Choose-One” Voting works well enough and voters overwhelmingly did vote for just one candidate.  However, like with the Superior Yes/No ballot question, calculating the percent of ballots gives more information.  We can see that at most 91.5% of Ward 3 voters marked this contest. (It was impossible to overvote this contest!)  If we drill down into the individual ballot data, then we can find out what percent of Ward 3 voters marked this contest.


Reporting and using the number of ballots helps voters to better understand the results, puts pressure on candidates and government officials to clearly present themselves or their ballot questions in order to earn a mandate, and is the language of our post-election audits. Check out the February 2024 Voter newsletter to learn more about audits!  In conclusion, we should always know the number of ballots cast and use that data in our election processes.