Quadratic Voting in Colorado
Officials within the state government of Colorado have conducted multiple experiments with Quadratic Voting (QV). The state’s first experiment with QV was conducted by the Democratic Caucus of the Colorado State House of Representatives in Spring 2019. Since then, members of the Colorado General Assembly have continued to use QV as a polling method, and groups in the executive branch of the state government have conducted their own experiments with QV as well.
Colorado’s First QV Experiment in 2019
Working with RadicalxChange Foundation and Democracy Earth Foundation, the Democratic Caucus of the Colorado State House of Representatives conducted the state’s first experiment with QV in Spring 2019. “We have a limited pot of money to spend on new legislation every year, so we needed to devise a method for accurately capturing the preference of those caucus members,” said Chris Hansen, a state representative from Denver and chair of the House Appropriations Committee. After weeks of discussions with no clear conclusions, they used QV to prioritize a handful of the many proposed spending bills that would draw upon their limited budget. The poll resulted in a clear prioritization of the budget bills in question, giving Caucus leaders a more informed and nuanced understanding of what the group supported.
Executive Branch QV experiments
In June 2020, officials in Colorado’s executive branch decided to bring QV into a new context. As part of an effort led by Ben Henderson and Hana Sayeed from the Governor’s Office of Operations, RadicalxChange Foundation implemented a process by which interagency working groups used QV to prioritize their yearly goals, using basic spreadsheet templates from RadicalxChange Foundation.
The process began with a test poll on a moot issue – favorite Colorado sports teams – to familiarize the participants with QV. Then, working group participants had an opportunity to argue and hear arguments for different proposed ‘20/’21 priorities. Finally, they used live QV ballots to help determine what the group felt most strongly about.
Seeing the benefits of the process in these interagency groups, several agency leaders began using it for group decisions in other contexts.
Two examples of this are that a) Colorado’s Department of Higher Education adopted QV to prioritize its budget expenses. And b) a cross-agency taskforce for behavioral health, consisting of ten public and private agencies, tabled 19 proposals and, in doing so, identified strong support for one of them: forming a new state agency for behavioral health. The Governor ultimately endorsed that decision, and now the Behavioral Health Administration for Colorado is in development.
The pandemic created enormous challenges for Colorado’s citizens and government, but QV helped Colorado more nimbly respond to them. It proved a useful way to structure decisions involving complex tradeoffs, and it appears likely that it will remain a vital tool for state governance.
In some of the decisions taken with QV, the results of the interagency polls were not ultimately adopted by the Governor’s office. This was disappointing for some participants and points to unavoidable challenges around using democratic systems to make decisions when the final authority rests elsewhere.
Legislature Utilizes New RxC QV application in 2021
In Spring 2021, the Democratic Caucus of the House of Representatives used QV once again to prioritize proposed spending bills. This time, the Democratic Caucus of the Senate conducted their own QV poll as well.
With a limited budget of $50 million and over 80 bills to consider, QV helped Caucus leaders gather detailed information about the group’s collective priorities. The results were both anonymous and non-binding—these were not official votes cast on the record.
Though the Democratic Caucus organized the Preference Poll, they maintained that their objective was efficiency, not partisanship: “I also offered this up to the Republicans,” Hansen said on a RadicalxChange livestream.
In the poll, members from both the House and the Senate used RxC QV, an updated QV application developed by RadicalxChange, to submit their preferences. The new web interface made it easy for members to scroll through all of the proposed bills and click to signal how strongly they supported each bill. The app’s admin interface made it easy for poll administrators to create the poll, distribute unique participation links to each member, and export the results. Once again, the poll generated a clear signal of the group’s collective priorities, which was useful to leadership in forming a legislative agenda that reflected the interests of each Caucus.
After the 2021 poll, Senator Hansen stated his intention that QV should become an ongoing routine in the Colorado legislature: “My hope is to successfully use it this year, try to repeat that success next year, and just make this a regular part of how we do business in the legislature,” he said. “Then, as we identify other problems where it’s a good fit, be able to roll it out—but be able to roll it out based on the confidence that has been built from this initial success.”
Senate Republicans join the 2022 experiment
In Spring 2022, the Democratic Caucus of the House of Representatives, the Democratic Caucus of the Senate, and the Republican Caucus of the Senate all used the RxC QV web application to hold internal polls to aid deliberations over the appropriations process. Procedurally, the polling methodology was roughly the same as in 2021.
The 2022 polls featured improvements to the RxC QV interface. To make QV more intuitive for users, the RadicalxChange team added new interactive animations representing voice credits as square blocks that can be grouped together and spent to express preference for options in the poll.
Senate and House Democrats 2023 QV polls
In Spring 2023, the Democratic Caucus of the House of Representatives and the Democratic Caucus of the Senate used the RxC QV web application to hold internal polls to aid deliberations over the appropriations process once again.
Further improvements to the RxC QV interface included a table of contents that allowed users to more easily navigate through many different ballot items.
Colorado QV in the press
2019 coverage: Bloomberg, Wired, Colorado Sun
2021 coverage: Colorado Politics
Get in touch
Feel free to contact the RadicalxChange Foundation for any QV related matters, including consultancy work related to democratic innovation and institutional design.
Adam Rogers, “Colorado Tried a New Way to Vote: Make People Pay—Quadratically”, Wired, April 16, 2019. ↩︎
Leon Erichsen and Matt Prewitt, “Quadratic Voting in Colorado: 2020”, RadicalxChange Blog, January 4, 2021. ↩︎
“Quadratic Voting at Work - Charlotte Cavaille, Chris Hansen, Sachin Mittal, and Jake Interrante”, RadicalxChange Livestream, May 11, 2021. ↩︎
Alex Randaccio and Eli Zeger, “QV Polling Method Gains Steam in Colorado State Legislature”, RadicalxChange Blog, May 24, 2021. ↩︎