The Aspen City Council offered input Tuesday on questions that will be decided by voters in the November election.
The board — absent Councilmen Dwayne Romero and Adam Frisch — weighed in on converting Aspen elections to a mail-in-only system without polling places; the issue of council-appointed seats like Romero’s; and the prospect of cumulative 14-year term limits for officials who serve both as mayor and council member. City staff will use the input received at Tuesday’s work session and return at a later date to the council with specific language that will appear on 2014 ballots.
With mail-in elections, which Pitkin County has converted to, ballots would be mailed to every registered voter. Polling places would be replaced with one central voting center, where residents would have the option to drop their ballots off in person. The center also would serve as a resource for individuals with any ballot issues. The city would save money by not paying a full staff of election judges, but according to City Clerk Kathryn Koch, the mail-in approach would be slightly more expensive because of the 50-cent cost for each of the 6,000 ballots that need to be sent out.
Councilwoman Ann Mullins and Mayor Steve Skadron are both in favor of keeping Aspen elections as is, with traditional polling-place procedures. Councilmen Art Daily and Frisch, who offered his input at Monday’s meeting, said they are in favor of converting to mail-in elections. It’s unclear where Romero stands.
Daily said he’s in favor of streamlining and simplifying the process, while Mullins and Skadron said having polling places increases community involvement.
“I think it’s an expression of civic pride. I think it builds community, and it’s a day I personally look forward to,” Skadron said. “I love voting day. It’s like a national holiday, the way the Super Bowl is a national holiday.”
During the work session, two members of the public, former mayor Mick Ireland and retired tax attorney Maurice Emmer, offered input. Emmer said that he is not a fan of the mail-in approach because it’s susceptible to fraud and he favors the community aspect of polling places.
“I share nostalgia for the old days, the polling place,” Ireland said, “but I think the most cost-effective, convenient, accessible method is to have mail-in ballots sent to everybody.”
The question of council-appointed seats stems from 2013, when Skadron vacated his spot for the seat of mayor. By rule, the vacancy was to be filled through an appointment process, but because the four-member council was tied, 2-2, on two candidates for the position, the decision nearly went to a dice roll. That’s because earlier in 2013, the Aspen Election Commission officially came up with a way of breaking a tie in an election: Each of the candidates with an equal number of votes rolls a single die, and the highest number wins.
Rather than leave it to chance as well as the risk of the potential for public embarrassment that could have come with an city councilman being selected by a dice roll, Skadron switched his vote from retired banker Howie Mallory to Romero. Mullins went along with Skadron, making it a 4-0 decision.
On Tuesday, the three-member board voiced support for sticking with the appointment process. However, consensus was that if the council is tied and no decision has been made within 30 days, a special election would be held. If Aspen’s next election was scheduled within a reasonable time frame, the two elections would be held concurrently, as to avoid unnecessary expense.
Based on input from the three-member board, the city attorney will draft language for the ballot question so voters can decide. Voters also will be asked if there should be a cumulative 14-year term limit for an official who serves on the council and as mayor. For clarification’s sake, Skadron said, it was council’s desire not to include partial years served in an appointed position in that cumulative term limit. So hypothetically, based on voter outcome, an appointed official like Romero could serve nearly 16 years.
The council offered input on one issue that will not be up to Aspen voters: term limits for city board appointments. Both Mullins and Skadron said they are not in favor of limiting time spent on city boards. However, they did express interest in having a more in-depth evaluation for candidates applying for reappointment. Both Skadron and Mullins said that while serving on city boards in the past, they’ve come across members with less-than-stellar attendance records and questionable commitment to their purpose. Official action will be taken on that issue at a future work session.