Pitkin County posts record voter turnout
Ryan Summerlin November 8, 2012
ASPEN – The outcome of several key local contests in Tuesday’s election could rest on the tallying of ballots that have yet to be counted in Pitkin County, where turnout hit an all-time high.
The hotly contested Aspen hydroelectric facility, for example, was defeated by just 110 votes, according to preliminary results issued Tuesday evening by the Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder’s Office. Uncounted ballots, including perhaps 25 mail-in ballots dropped off at polling places late in the day, roughly 215 provisional ballots and an estimated 40 to 50 ballots that must be “cured” by the voters who cast them, conceivably could tip the balance in the close vote on the hydro measure – advisory question 2C.
The provisional ballots and remaining mail-in ballots will be counted Nov. 19. Voters who must “cure” a problem with their mail-in ballot (there’s an issue with the signature on the envelope or it’s missing a signature, for example) have until Wednesday to do so. Letters already have been sent to those voters.
In Snowmass Village, the winner of one Town Council seat remains undetermined pending the outcome of counting still to be done. Tuesday’s tally put Darryl Grob and Chris Jacobson just four votes apart, with Stan Stokes trailing Grob by 28 votes.
Even the district attorney’s race in the 9th Judicial District, pitting incumbent Martin Beeson against challenger Sherry Caloia, potentially could be affected, according to Dwight Shellman III, election manager in Pitkin County. There are provisional and other ballots still to be counted in all three counties that make up the judicial district (Pitkin, Garfield and Rio Blanco), including 559 provisional ballots in Garfield County.
Based on preliminary results in Pitkin County, a record 93 percent of active voters (9,840 out of 10,591 electors) cast ballots in Tuesday’s election. The ballots that have yet to be counted could drive the total over 10,000 for the first time, at least in the modern era.
“It may not tip it over 10,000, but it’s awfully close,” Clerk and Recorder Janice Vos Caudill said Wednesday.
It’s possible, Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland noted recently, that more than 10,000 county voters cast ballots during Aspen’s silver boom of the late 1800s, when the local population was greater than it is now. Women gained the right to vote early on in Colorado – the state was the first in the union to approve women’s suffrage in a popular election, in 1893, according to the Aspen Historical Society. Colorado women voted and ran for elected office for a quarter-century before the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote across the country in 1920.
Once all of this year’s ballots are tallied, the total number of county voters who participated Tuesday will eclipse the record set in the last presidential election, Shellman predicted. In 2008, the county’s final ballot count hit 9,887. Already, this year’s 93 percent turnout of active voters tops the 90 percent in 2008, he said.
In 2008, 114 provisional ballots were cast, of which 89 ultimately were counted.
Provisional ballots are issued, for example, to individuals who were supposed to receive mail-in ballots but didn’t. Once the Clerk’s Office confirms that the voter has not already voted via a mail ballot, and is a registered local voter who cast the provisional ballot in the correct precinct, the ballot will be tallied. If the ballot was cast at the wrong precinct polling place, only votes for state and federal offices and issues will be counted.
If an out-of-state voter appears at a polling place and wants a provisional ballot, they are issued one, but the ballot will not be counted because the voter was not eligible to vote in Pitkin County.
Though there are ballots left to count, the Clerk and Recorder’s Office tallied some 9,800 ballots Tuesday in perhaps record time, posting preliminary results by about 11 p.m. – four hours after the polls closed.
“Of the 13 elections I’ve run, this was the smoothest one we’ve seen,” Vos Caudill said. Longtimers in the office can’t recall a quicker wrap-up to election night in a presidential election year, she added.
This year, the county saw fewer voters take advantage of early voting, a two-week period when voters can cast their ballots in person before Election Day, and fewer people who went to the polls on Tuesday. There was a sizable increase, though, in the number of voters who opted to vote by mail, Vos Caudill said.