A special election in Littleton likely slated for spring of next year could cost the city as much as $165,000, according to City Clerk Colleen Norton. The estimated cost is a $100,000 increase from the last time the city held a special election in 2015.
Inflation and supply shortages — such as the cost and supply of paper — have dramatically increased potential operating costs, Norton said, adding that the final amount won't be known until after the election is held. In comparing costs to the city for the 2022 election to the 2021 election, Norton said there has been a 300% increase.
"Until the city has chosen vendors and entered into contracts for everything from ballot printing and mailing, to hiring of election judges and rental of tabulation equipment, as well as any other vendors necessary for the conduct of the election, we will be operating under the estimated cost," Norton said.
The question that will be posed to voters could result in a reduction in the city's requirements for petition signatures as well as a tightening of the timeline the city has to host certain elections.
While residents had initially hoped to land the question on the Nov. 8 ballot, they failed to meet the signature requirements by that time frame. However, according to Norton, they did succeed in delivering more than the 3,628 required signatures required by Oct. 5 to trigger a special election next year.
The effort was born over backlash to the fallout of a previous citizen-led petition against the rezoning of Aspen Grove earlier this year. While residents succeeded in gaining the number of signatures needed to trigger a referendum on that issue, which was 10% of the registered voters in the last municipal election, some were frustrated with city council's decision to hold the vote during the 2022 General Election this November.
Residents who campaigned for the petition said the city should have followed state law which requires referendum elections to be held 60 to 150 days after the petition is certified. Littleton's city code and charter, however, exempt it from those requirements and — citing the higher cost and lower turnout associated with off-cycle special elections — city council members opted to add the question to the Nov. 8 ballot.
Many of the same residents who petitioned for the Aspen Grove referendum, part of an advocacy group called REvision Littleton, began collecting signatures for a new petition this summer that would force a vote on aligning Littleton's code and charter with state election law.
In essence, it means voters could decide to hold the city to the 60 to 150-day timeframe for hosting elections and reduce the needed signatures to trigger those elections from 10% of the registered voters in the last municipal election to 5%.
John Marchetti, a Littleton resident and member of REvision Littleton, said the goal of that change would be to ensure residents who "are not being listened to by our representatives have a way of addressing that."
Littleton resident Matt Duff, who is part of another advocacy group known as Vibrant Littleton — which supports housing projects in the city such as Aspen Grove, told Colorado Community Media during the petitioning that it "seems like a way for the vocal minority to block projects that they don’t want" and that “by lowering the standards of how many people need to be heard … it’s being used as a way to get around who is elected.”
Marchetti said the estimated cost of the special election posed by Norton "is in question” and said he wants "to know something other than a rough estimate." Even if the election were to cost the city as much as $165,000, Marchetti said, "either way the people have spoken and we can’t go back just because it’s going to cost this much."
City council is expected to hold a vote on when to schedule the special election during a meeting Nov. 15. The proposed date, according to Norton, is March 7 meaning ballots could be sent out beginning Feb. 13.