Ballot language on hydro is biased
September 6, 2012
Last winter, Ward Hauenstein and I sponsored a referendum petition asking the Aspen City Council to hold an election on the proposed rezoning of the Castle Creek Energy Center site. The petition was signed by 953 people, far more than the 650-odd required and far more than the total votes cast “yea” and “nay” on the bond measure in 2007.
Yet the City Council simply repealed the rezoning and did not call an election on the matter at that time. The council promised to place a question on the November ballot but did not commit to placing a binding measure on the ballot, i.e., one that would actually stop the project if the people so voted. On Tuesday, the City Council designated the ballot language. The council made it only “advisory,” depriving the public of the “up or down” vote many had sought.
A worse offense by the City Council is the language it designated for the ballot measure. Why not simple language such as “Shall the City of Aspen complete its current project to establish a hydroelectric plant on Castle Creek?” That would have made it easy for the public to know what it would be voting for or against.
Why did the City Council reject the simple approach and choose to embellish the proposition with an infomercial for the energy center? Why add the unnecessary and confusing language “subject to local stream health monitoring and applicable governmental regulations, in order to replace coal-fired energy with renewable energy”? Does anyone know what that means? If you are for the energy center but also for “all of the above” energy, will you know which way to vote? If you are against the energy center but opposed to coal, will you know how to vote?
The mayor defended this embellishment, saying, “That’s what the project is about.” But of course the project also is about blowing through the budget, ignoring environmental damage from the project and employing sharp practices to try to ram the project through city and federal processes. Why didn’t the City Council also embellish the proposition with language such as “regardless of the cost, the environmental damage, and the opaque and sometimes dishonest process the city has used to advance the project”?
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Ballot measures should not contain commercials for one point of view or another. Pamphlets are prepared by election officials explaining the arguments for and against the measure, and a lot of other information can be obtained by voters who want to understand the issues. The measure itself should present a clear choice to the voter without lobbying the voter. The proper way to present a ballot measure on the energy center is with a simple question of whether the city should complete the project. We do not list our candidates on ballots with language such as “Barack Obama, in order to expand big government and deficit spending,” or “Mitt Romney, to reduce government spending and achieve fiscal responsibility.”
Why did the City Council insist on the additional language? Because it is hoping the public will not educate itself on the issue before voting and will vote “yes” as a knee-jerk reaction to the terms “stream monitoring” and “replace coal-fired” (obvious attempts to “green up” the energy center). In other words, the City Council is counting on an ignorant electorate. Isn’t that respectful?
The City Council is hoping that the public will not investigate the facts; the council is hoping people won’t learn that the energy center could not actually replace coal-fired electricity because the energy center will not operate in the winter, which is when we use coal-fired electricity to meet peak annual electrical demand.
Now the ballot language is set. People will educate themselves on the issues and vote according to their views of the project. If you support the project (for any reason), vote “yes.” If you oppose the project (for any reason), vote “no.” But educate yourself on the facts before deciding.