Carbondale election turnout a bit light
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
CARBONDALE – Carbondale’s first municipal election since state law was changed last year to allow people to register as mail-ballot-only voters was an experiment in voting preference.
And, somewhat as expected, far more people voted using mail ballots than showed up at their precinct polling place to vote on election day.
A total of 609 Carbondale voters cast mail ballots in Tuesday’s election to decide on a new mayor and fill three board of trustees seats, compared to 253 walk-in voters, according to Carbondale Town Clerk Cathy Derby.
Stacey Patch Bernot easily won the mayor’s seat over fellow town trustee Ed Cortez, 686-174, while incumbent trustees John Foulkrod and Frosty Merriott were automatically re-elected in the uncontested trustee race. Joining them on the board will be political newcomer Elizabeth Murphy, who was the only other candidate in the election.
Unlike other Garfield County municipalities, Carbondale had a split mail ballot/polling place election Tuesday. Silt and New Castle both had mail-only elections.
State law now requires that local jurisdictions honor the request of voters who register as permanent mail-in voters. Ballots must be mailed in advance to those voters, and they can either return by mail or deliver by hand to their local election official – in this case the town clerk.
“In the past, we allowed people to register prior to the election for an absentee or early voter ballot,” Derby said.
Such a request could only be made for that particular election, whether a voter was truly going to be absent on election day or not, she said.
“We typically had about 50 to 75 absentee requests, max,” she said. “This was the first time we had to honor the permanent mail-in voter requests.”
While more voters chose to use mail ballots in all three of the town’s precincts, it did not improve overall voter turnout, Derby said.
Of Carbondale’s 3,332 registered voters, only 862 people voted in Tuesday’s election, or 26 percent.
That’s up slightly from the April 2008 municipal election, when 25 percent of Carbondale voters cast ballots, but down compared to 2006, and particularly 2004, when 46 percent of Carbondale voters participated.
“In my heart of hearts, I hoped we’d have more than we did,” Derby said. “But other town clerks told me not to have that kind of expectation, because there were no ballot issues. That’s what tends to bring out the voters, especially if it’s a taxing question.”
The fact that the election featured two fairly like-minded candidates for mayor in Bernot and Cortez, and that the trustee seats were uncontested, also likely affected turnout.
Derby said the split-format election did end up costing more than conducting a strictly mail-ballot election, since she had to pay for postage and other expenses to do the mail ballots, as well as pay election judges to staff polling places on election day.
The state of Colorado is considering switching to mandatory mail ballots for all elections as a cost-cutting measure. Whether the town of Carbondale will make the switch in the meantime would be up to the town board, Derby said.
Meanwhile, mayoral candidate Ed Cortez, who suffered a mild heart attack Sunday night, was reportedly re-admitted to the hospital the night of the election due to complications, Carbondale Town Manager Tom Baker said Wednesday.
Cortez had been in the hospital before returning home to recover on Tuesday. He was re-admitted at some point late Tuesday, Baker said. It was unclear what additional procedures were required or how long Cortez will continue to be hospitalized, he said.
Cortez, who had two years left of his trustee term, will retain his seat on the Carbondale town board.
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