Mail-in-only elections in Aspen?
Ryan Summerlin March 22, 2014
The Aspen City Council will decide soon whether it wants to continue holding traditional polling-place elections or convert to mail-in-only elections.
On Wednesday, City Clerk Kathryn Koch presented the Election Commission with the pros and cons of both approaches. Those arguing for mail-in elections claim that they cut costs and boost voter turnout, while others worry about security issues and the effect on community interaction. City Attorney Jim True said many believe the removal of polling places would hurt Aspen’s small-town character.
Koch said that Election Day in Aspen is the essence of small-town America. True said he has heard people describe polling-place elections as “part of the American way” or a “flag waving” opportunity.
Koch recalled the most recent Election Day in Aspen: Councilmen Torre and Adam Frisch were on opposite sides of the street with their respective campaign parties, waving banners. She said it’s a scene many in the community enjoy.
“If the taxpayers want the polling places, my argument is, ‘Then provide the people and the staff to do it, because you certainly aren’t.’”
Janice K. Vos Caudill
Clerk and recorder, Pitkin County
Officials of Aspen, a town that hires three judges at $200 each for its Election Day polling places, will discuss the issue at an April 29 council work session.
Pitkin County, which is bound by state guidelines for elections, recently converted from traditional polling to a combination of mail-ballot distribution, early voting and voter-service centers. It also gained access to a $16 million computer system, which drives a greater mail-in approach. Before 2013, when the state implemented a bill to modernize elections, the county employed about 200 judges for major elections. That number has been cut in half with the new system.
County Clerk and Recorder Janice K. Vos Caudill said her judges were sometimes forced to work 80-hour weeks during elections.
“If the taxpayers want the polling places, my argument is, ‘Then provide the people and the staff to do it, because you certainly aren’t,’” she said. “We make it happen under constraints that are inhumane, and we have to implement them perfectly, or we are chastised for making an error and we’re sued.”
In 2012, during the presidential election, 72 percent of the Colorado constituency voted by mail, while 10 percent voted early and 16 percent went to the polls. But it was a different story in Pitkin County, which is one of the six smallest counties in the state. About 45 percent voted by mail here. Vos Caudill said mail-in ballots are a growing trend.
Koch, who has served as city clerk for more than 40 years, has presented the council with the mail-in option before. The first time she brought the idea before the council was in the 1990s, when John Bennett was mayor. The response was an emphatic “no.”