Our view: Lessons learned from the 2018 election
November 13, 2018
The midterms are over, and voters everywhere are recovering from election fatigue. With Election Day more than seven days behind us, we thought we'd use this week's Our View to share some of the lessons we gleaned from this year's election in Routt County.
With so many close races this fall, it's clear the age-old adage — every vote counts — is absolutely true.
In Routt County, turnout for Democrat voters outpaced Republicans by a small margin, but the difference-maker just might have been unaffiliated and third party voters. Eighty-seven percent of active Democrats voted in the election compared to 81 percent of active Republicans, and 74 percent of active unaffiliated voters and 74 percent of active third party voters turned out. These statistics alone would support the idea that going after voters who are disillusioned with the traditional parties would be a smart tactic going forward.
At a glance
At issue: The 2018 midterms attracted strong turnout with 77 percent of Routt County voters participating.
Our View: We think future campaigns can learn from this year's election results.
Logan Molen, publisher
Lisa Schlichtman, editor
Mike Burns, community representative
Melissa Hampton, community representative
Contact the Editorial Board at 970-871-4221 or lschlichtman@SteamboatPilot.com.
It also seems clear that grassroots campaigning still works. In the county commissioner's race, political newcomer Beth Melton credits her win, in part, to just that.
In addition to raising a sizable campaign fund from a large number of smaller donations, Melton spent the months leading up to the election canvassing neighborhoods throughout Routt County, knocking on doors and sharing her vision for the county's future. Melton focused on issues that galvanized her base — the high cost of housing, the scarcity and high cost of child care and protection of public lands. Her platform addressed many of the "pain points" young professionals living in Steamboat Springs are experiencing, and her supporters showed up to vote.
We also sense a shift in balance when it comes to local elections. Based on this fall's returns, we think campaign organizers need to find ways to stay connected with all segments of the voting public and find creative ways to reach beyond traditional circles of influence.
Take for example, the Yes2Air campaign. It was well financed, professionally organized and had the backing of the business community, but it lost by 332 votes. There was no formal opposition group campaigning against 2A, but instead, a large segment of locals, representing what we would characterize as Steamboat's working class, decided they didn't want to pay a tax they perceived would only benefit Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. and the lodging community.
We believe that perception is wrong as a robust airline program benefits anyone who depends on the tourism industry for their paycheck from restaurant workers to ski area executives, but information about how the tax would have benefitted locals was not communicated clearly enough or understood by the average voter.
We also think putting a long list of tax initiatives on the ballot is a good way to ensure the majority of those issues will go down in flames as we witnessed last week. Proposition 110 and Amendment 73 were both defeated by wide margins, and we think having those tax initiatives on the ballot impacted the outcome of 2A as well.
By contrast, Referendum 2B, renewal of Steamboat's half-cent sales tax for education, won big, passing with more than 85 percent of the vote. The 2B campaign was well organized and community outreach efforts began well before the issue was placed on the ballot.
According to 2B campaign manager Jeanne Mackowski, the group presented to 30 community groups, organizations and businesses between April and August, putting their message before 500-plus people, most of whom had no connection to the schools. Their strategy worked and should be used as the gold standard for other campaigns going forward.
It also should be noted that the Education Fund Board has been a good steward of the sales tax money it receives. Board members created a very transparent system with built-in accountability that allows taxpayers to clearly understand how the funds are being spent, and we believe that cemented strong support for renewal of the tax.
And finally, turnout for the midterm election in Routt County was extremely strong. The 77 percent turnout was the highest participation the county has seen in 20 years, which means local voters were engaged, interested and took full advantage of that inalienable right to make their voices heard.