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  • Denver Set to Vote on 'Proactive' Olympic Ballot Initiative


    02/08/19

    (ATR) Denver residents will be able to vote on a measure that would give them the right to decide if the city can use public money for a future Olympics.

    (Let Denver Vote)
    Citizens group “Let Denver Vote” confirmed this week it had submitted the requisite number of signatures required to put forth a ballot initiative in Denver. The group had fallen just short of submitting enough signatures to get on the May municipal elections, but reached a deadline to be included on a potential June runoff ballot.

    Christine O'Connor, a spokesperson for the group, told Around the Rings that should there be no runoff elections, the initiative would feature in November elections.

    Denver was in the running to be designated a “future Olympic host city” by the United States Olympic Committee, as it plots a future Winter Olympic bid. Salt Lake City, the host of the 2002 Winter Olympics, and Reno-Tahoe, Nevada were the other cities in consideration.

    Reno-Tahoe dropped out before the process was completed, and the USOC ultimately chose Salt Lake City for its future bid. Salt Lake City was viewed by the USOC as a more attractive option due to its existing infrastructure from the 2002 Olympics.

    Let Denver Vote pursued the ballot initiative as a “proactive measure of good governance” O’Connor said, because the residents of Denver were not consulted when a private group began pursuing an Olympic bid.

    The aim of the initiative is to require a public vote to authorize Denver to pursue a future Olympic bid which requires the use of public money. Let Denver Vote considered pursuing a statewide ballot initiative, but logistical hurdles and the belief that Denver would bear the lion's share of the burden for any Olympic bid compelled the group to get on the municipal ballot.

    “We want to have a say up front and put voter protection into the law, into the Denver municipal code, rather than letting the city move forward with our tax dollars and it becomes a divisive issue later when our tax dollars have been wasted,” O’Connor said to ATR in an interview about the initiative.

    “We want to be in a position to let the voters choose before spending on a mega project like the Olympics.”

    Around 45 volunteers worked with Let Denver Vote to gather the necessary signatures required to get the initiative on the ballot in June. O’Connor said that the group worked to draft a “neutral” question, as the group is not for or against hosting the Olympics. Rather, the exercise is one in direct democracy aimed at informing voters and bringing residents into the decision making process.

    Ending up on the June ballot may be a blessing in disguise for the group, O’Connor said, as a runoff election would bring more attention to the election and a more informed electorate.

    Let Denver Vote submitting signatures for approval (Denver Elections/Twitter)
    It could be argued that Denver is the historical birthplace of the current grassroots movements that have multiplied in recent years bringing the Olympics to the ballot box. The city famously returned hosting rights for the 1976 Winter Olympics after a statewide referendum in Colorado voted against funding the Games.

    The last three Olympic bid cycles have featured a number of referendums and grassroots citizens groups torpedoing potential bids for both the Summer and Winter Games.

    Oslo, Norway was the last city to be successful in an Olympic referendum in 2013, but the city eventually withdrew from bidding for the 2022 Winter Olympics. In the same cycle, Krakow, Poland voted against its 2022 bid while Stockholm and Lviv, Ukraine withdrew due to lack of political support.

    Boston opposition groups were successful in ending the city’s fledging, chaotic 2024 Olympic bid by persuading the city’s Mayor Marty Walsh from signing a host city contract that would put cost overruns on the city or state of Massachusetts. Boston was set to vote on the 2024 Summer Olympic bid months later.

    In the same cycle Hamburg, Germany voted against bidding for the Games, and Budapest, Hungary withdrew its bid after a referendum was forced by citizens groups. The IOC eventually awarded the 2024 Olympics to Paris and 2028 Olympics to Los Angeles in a compromise.

    For the 2026 Winter Olympics, Calgary, Canada; Graubünden and Sion, Switzerland; and Innsbruck, Austria all voted against bidding for the Games. Graz, Austria bid in Innsbruck’s place, but withdrew over lack of political support with a referendum looming. Sapporo withdrew to focus on bidding for the 2030 Winter Olympics, and Erzurum, Turkey was not shortlisted by the IOC.

    That leaves Milan-Cortina in Italy and Stockholm-Are in Sweden as the two bids left. Neither bid currently faces a public vote.

    The last referendum that led to a successful Olympic bid came in 2003 when over 60 percent of Vancouver residents approved an Olympic bid. Vancouver hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics.

    With Salt Lake City asking for $15 million in public money from the Utah State Legislature to bring more world class sporting events to the area, O’Connor said Denver should not assume that the chosen 2030 city will keep its bid all the way to the finish line. She added that the sheer number of uncertainties in bidding for a mega-event means it’s more important than ever for Denver to have its say now.

    “One of [our goals] is that we have this in the code and anytime Denver says let’s go explore it again, that’s why we are doing this,” O’Connor said.

    “It is good governance. It is proactive, and we really think because Denver bears a brunt in the negative impacts and fiscal guarantees we need to have this codified going forward.”

    Written by Aaron Bauer

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