Group moves to change city of Aspen election date
The group hoping to change the city of Aspen’s municipal election from May to March turned in close to 800 signatures to the City Clerk’s Office on Thursday supporting a vote in the fall to decide the issue.
Thursday was the deadline for Aspen Citizens for Democracy, whose principal organizer is Skippy Mesirow, to turn in referendum signatures to put the question on the Nov. 6 ballot.
They need 332 valid signatures from registered Aspen voters to make the ballot this fall, City Clerk Linda Manning said. She will count and validate them in the coming days, she said.
The group’s position that the traditional date of the mayoral and council election 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 it to the first Tuesday in March allows more people to vote, they said, because seasonal workers haven’t left for warmer climes and extended travel.
“It’s just common sense to get more people involved,” said Kevin McDonald, who is part of the effort.
Voter turnout in the 2017 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, said those numbers are unacceptable.
“One hundred percent participation is the goal, nothing short,” he said.
If the election is moved to March, candidates would pick up nomination petitions in December, return them in January and start campaigning.
Some argue that people don’t have the time to campaign or pay attention to the issues when it’s in the middle of high season.
Group member Wendle Whiting said other cities and resort towns that have year-round economies don’t seem to have a problem paying attention to civics in an election year.
“No one can sit here and say there are as many people voting in May as there in March,” he said, adding that moving the election doesn’t affect those who are already here but rather includes a segment of the population that isn’t during the offseason. “At least this gives them an opportunity to vote.”
City Councilman Bert Myrin said he would vote against the measure if it makes it to the ballot.
“It takes away the opportunity for someone to campaign because it’s prime earning time,” he said, adding that he’s concerned that seasonal workers could sway a vote, citing an election in Snowmass that determined the fate of Base Village years ago.
“To me the question is, ‘Does the resort run the town or does the town run the resort?’” he asked.
Group member and former City Councilman Art Daily said there is no harm in having more people head to the polls.
“It’s a no-brainer,” he said. “We want as many people to vote as possible.”
Manning said 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.
“I give people the opportunity to vote,” she said. “They don’t need to be physically here to vote.”
Whiting said people often don’t know where they will be and having to contact the Clerk’s Office while traveling is just another hoop to go through. Or, people don’t get their ballots in time before leaving town.
“These are all things that make it harder,” he said.
Manning said that in May 1989, 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.
Mayor Steve Skadron said during a July 2 meeting with the Next Gen Commission, which Mesirow is a member of, that voter participation is a larger issue than just the election date. He suggested compulsory voting — requiring people to vote if, for example, they receive a food tax refund from the city or live in city-subsidized housing.
“Let’s take a gigantic step in an Aspen kind of way that gets people involved in our process to vote,” Skadron said. “Changing the date is window dressing as far as I’m concerned.”
Mesirow said there is nothing to lose by moving the election date.
“The worst thing that happens is nothing,” he said. “You don’t want people to vote if you don’t want to move it.”
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Candidates for the March 2 Aspen City Council election answered questions about business-related matters in a forum hosted by the Aspen Resort Chamber Association.