Basalt will switch to mail ballots to try to spur voter turnout | AspenTimes.com

Basalt will switch to mail ballots to try to spur voter turnout

Basalt will hold a mail-ballot election in the Town Council race in April in an effort to spur voter turnout.

The council voted 7-0 Tuesday night to authorize the mail-ballot election rather than use polling places, even though it will be more expensive. Mail elections tend to produce higher voter turnout because residents have more time and flexibility to cast a vote, said Town Clerk Pam Schilling.

On the negative side, a mail election is about twice as expensive to hold because a ballot is mailed to every registered voter, Schilling said. Some voters have moved away, and others won't take the time to vote.

Schilling said the Colorado Legislature has made significant changes to state statutes on elections over the past two years. One change allows municipalities to conduct their own mail-ballot elections. Basalt has never had a mail ballot in a council election before, she said.

“I think ’16 is a pivotal deal, period. It’s going to set the course for the next 10 years.”Basalt Councilman Rick Stevens

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Basalt's turnout at elections has traditionally been low. For example, only 491 ballots were cast among the 2,580 registered voters in the 2012 municipal election, which featured a mayoral race, Schilling noted.

"To me, that's a really low number," she said of the 19 percent turnout.

Councilman Gary Tennenbaum said 18 percent turnout is typical in Basalt.

"If we double it, it'd be huge," he said.

Former mayor and Councilman Rick Stevens said the turnout has been low in past polling-place elections even during years when there was a major issue and a well-contested race. He said he views this election as important because the seats of the mayor and three council members are up for election. The outcome could heavily influence the future land use of the former Pan and Fork site.

"I think '16 is a pivotal deal — period," Stevens said. "It's going to set the course for the next 10 years."

Stevens said he favors whatever election method gives candidates and voters the most amount of time to study the issues and prepare. That option would be the mail ballot. Candidates for the open council seats can take out a petition as early as Jan. 5. They must be returned to the town clerk by Jan. 25. The ballots will arrive in the mail to all registered voters around mid-March or roughly three weeks before the April 5 election day.

With a poll election, absentee ballots aren't available to send out until about eight days before the election. Also, candidates don't have to commit until closer to the election date.

Mayor Jacque Whitsitt and Councilmen Stevens, Rob Leavitt and Hershel Ross currently hold the seats up for election. None is restricted by term limits. They haven't announced their intentions yet because the election is seven months away.

scondon@aspentimes.com