Predicting higher ballot returns

Elections officials in Douglas and Jefferson counties are estimating slightly higher returns than usual during this “off-year” election, perhaps because of increased political interest in non-partisan school board races.

Josh Liss, deputy of elections for Jefferson County, said nearly 67,000 ballots had been returned as of Wednesday. In 2007 and 2009, about 95,000 voters cast ballots.

“Typically, we tend to see about 30 percent of our total returns on Election Day,” Liss said. “So we could be right on pace for 95,000 – I think we’re going to go over.”

Liss said increased attention to the Jefferson County school board races may be spurring the returns.

This year, Jeffco’s Republican Party is actively promoting two candidates with efforts including “Red October,” a Get Out the Vote drive featuring phone banks at GOP headquarters from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.

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“It’s sort of a groundswell of activity in the community,” said Don Ytterberg, Jeffco’s Republican Party chair. “People who would like to have a voice, who are on the conservative side, don’t feel they have had that because the races have been organized largely by the education community.”

Ytterberg said it’s the first time “in a long time” that the GOP has been active in the school board elections, though he was hesitant to say it was the party’s first-ever foray into board contests.

In Douglas County, the Republican Party became active in 2009 school board elections – a year that saw a record turnout for school board contests in recent years.

Ytterberg said Jeffco’s GOP activity does differ from that in Dougco.

“We did not take the same action as Douglas County did,” he said. “We did not put forth a slate of candidates as a party but certainly, as a party, we are supporting the candidates who have emerged.”

Political backing sparks official complaint

In Douglas and Jefferson counties, school board members represent geographic areas but they are elected countywide.

In 2005 and 2007 in Douglas County, no more than 31,000 ballots were cast in a single school board race.

But in 2009, when Dougco’s Republican Party endorsed a slate of four candidates, the number of votes cast in each of four board contests topped 45,000.

Douglas County Clerk and Recorder Jack Arrowsmith said 31,650 ballots had been returned as of early Thursday. He projected another 15,000 by Election Day, with the biggest jump on Tuesday, to put total votes in excess of 46,000.

Complaint filed

“So I think there is a pretty good chance that we will match our 2009 numbers and perhaps surpass it by end of day on Tuesday,” Arrowsmith said.

This year, Dougco’s Republican Party is again active, with one mailer titled “Vote for the Republican candidates” above photos of three candidates and depicting what’s labeled as an “official ballot for the Republican Party.”

That prompted candidate Susan Meek to file a formal complaint this week with the Secretary of State’s Office, citing a violation of state statute that says, “A candidate for the office of school director shall not run as a candidate of any political party for that school directorship.”

The office found no violation because that particular statute governs how candidates get on the ballot and not how they campaign.  In other words, school board candidates are not nominated by a political party and there’s no party affiliation – no “R” for Republican, for example – attached to their names on the ballot.

Meek was directed to the district’s attorney office if she wanted to pursue a complaint about knowingly making false statements in a political mailer. She said today she’s undecided about whether she’ll do so.

Ballot totals, no predictions for Denver

Voter turnout is typically lower in “off-year” or “odd-year” elections because there are no presidential or congressional races to drum up interest.

Party of registered voters
  • Denver – 52% Democrat, 28% unaffiliated, 18% Republican
  • Douglas County – 51% Republican, 28% unaffiliated, 21% Democrat,
  • Jefferson County – 37% Republican, 32% Democrat, 30% unaffiliated

*Active voters as of Sept. 30, Secretary of State’s Office

Colorado saw an “off-year” turnout record in 2005 when 49.8 percent of the state’s 2.3 million eligible voters cast ballots. That was the year that two well-publicized and controversial statewide budget measures – known as Ref C and D – were on the ballot.

There were no statewide ballot measures in 2007 and 2009. This year, there’s just one – Proposition 103, which would boost education funding by raising state sales and income taxes for five years.

In Denver, voters also are being asked about ensuring paid sick time for employees, along with selecting three school board members.

As of Wednesday, slightly over 49,000 ballots had been returned and marked valid by the city’s elections division. Spokesman Alton Dillard declined any assessment of possible total voter turnout by 7 p.m. Tuesday.

In prior “off-year” elections, votes cast in Denver’s at-large citywide school board races ranged from 79,000 in 2005 to 72,000 in 2009.

In this year’s other two Denver school board contests, board members are elected by voters residing in a geographic area.

In the District 1 southeast Denver race, 12,777 ballots were returned and marked “accepted” as of Wednesday. In 2007, the most recent election for that seat, 18,600 votes were tallied.

And in the District 5 northwest Denver race, 7,738 ballots were returned and accepted as of Wednesday. In the most recent contest in that area, in 2007, 10,900 ballots were counted.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”