Aspen voters approve change in municipal Election Day to March

Claire Curry votes at the polls in the Pitkin County Administration building on Election Day on Tuesday.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times

In a landslide vote, Aspen residents voted to move the municipal election from May to March, according to unofficial, early election results tallied as of press time Tuesday night.

Question 2A asked to amend the city’s home rule charter so that the general municipal election, which elects the mayor and city council members, to the first Tuesday of March, 2019, and biennially after that.

As of 1 a.m., 2,409 Aspenites voted in favor and 1,119 against, or 68 percent for and 32 percent against.

More votes were expected to be counted, including ballots that were cast at the clerk and recorders office by individuals who walked in.

But all indications point to a victory for Aspen Citizens for Democracy, the group behind the citizen referendum.

“It’s gratifying,” said Skippy Mesirow, an organizer and group member. “It’s rewarding to live in a place where we can come together around the democratic process.”

Members of Aspen Citizens for Democracy argued that the municipal election being held on the first Tuesday of May takes place when occupancy is at its lowest time of the year, therefore disenfranchising a certain segment of the population.

Moving the election to March, during the high season, will result in more voter participation and a more representative government because seasonal workers haven’t left for warmer climes and extended travel.

Voter turnout in the 2017 city election was 38 percent, with 2,413 out of 6,400 voters showing up to the polls.

Mesirow, who unsuccessfully ran for a council seat that year, has said those numbers are unacceptable.

“Our goal is to be the first community in the country with 100 percent voter participation,” Mesirow said. “The question for tomorrow is, what’s next?”

The vote means those who are seeking elected office will pick up nomination petitions in December, return them in January and start campaigning.

Mayor Steve Skadron, who has run five campaigns, said he is concerned that qualified candidates will not run for office because campaign season will be during the high season when local voters are not paying as much attention to the issues.

“I have some concerns that it will be a logistical nightmare for candidates,” he said, adding the end of high season is a good time of year to vet issues and candidates. “I appreciated a season dedicated to the election.”

Although there was no formal opposition, those against the measure argued that because it’s an all mail-in ballot election, there are ample ways to vote outside of being physically here. Ballots are sent out 15 days prior to the election; the clerk’s office will mail a ballot to people in other states and those who are in a different country can vote via email.

With the election date change, if a candidate does not garner a majority vote, a runoff will be held in April. That used to occur in June.

Incumbents serving currently will remain in office until June, despite their successors’ election in March.

The last time Aspen voters attempted to change the election date for municipal elections was May 1989. That’s when voters passed a ballot measure that changed the home rule charter and moved the election to November. But in July 1990, another ballot measure was passed in a special election that moved the election back to May, negating the 1989 vote.