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City of Aspen gearing up for a spring election pandemic style

City of Aspen voting stats:

Currently there are 8,851 voters registered to vote in the city of Aspen. In 2017 there were:

6,400 registered voters.

2413 ballots were cast, a 37.7% turnout. Of those voting, 88%

voted through their mail-in ballot and 12% voted in person.

In 2019 there were:

6,095 registered voters.

3,243 individuals voted, a 53.2% turnout. Of those who voted, 82% voted through their mail-in ballot and 18% voted in person.

For both 2017 and 2019:

About 11% voted early in person and about 25% voted in person on Election Day.

Historically, what is on the ballot tends to influence voter turnout and participation.

In 2019 and 2009, issues on the ballots, such as Lift One and instant runoff voting, respectively, brought out over 40% of registered voters.

On non-issue years, voter turnout was mid-30%.

• Source: City of Aspen Clerk’s Office

The Aspen City Clerk’s Office is gearing up for the 2021 municipal election and is anticipating $15,000 in additional funding to protect voters and election workers during the pandemic.

Early voting will begin in February for the election that will decide two council seats and the mayor’s.

Councilwoman Ann Mullins is term-limited after serving two four-year terms.

Councilman Ward Hauenstein’s seat is up for grabs, as well. He has not decided whether to seek a second term.

Mayor Torre is in his second year of a two-year term. He also has not announced whether he will pursue a second term.

A majority of Aspen voters in November 2018 voted to change the election date from May to March after a group of residents put a citizen referendum on the ballot.

They 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.

City Clerk Nicole Henning said Aspen voters tend to wait until the last two days to vote, or drop off a mail ballot or come in person on Election Day.

In the 2019 election, almost 1,300 dropped-off ballots were received in the last two days of the election, compared with almost 800 dropped off during the first 11 days of voting.

Handling that much volume on election day makes signature verification time consuming and challenging, Henning noted.

That’s why she is advocating for a drop box in front of City Hall on Galena Street that will allow voters to drop off their ballots before election day.

The city’s ballot box would be similar to that of Pitkin County’s, which is located just outside of the clerk and recorder’s office on Main Street.

Henning said her research shows that a box in front of City Hall will accommodate between 3,000 and 6,000 ballots. It would cost taxpayers $4,000.

The Galena Street location was selected because it is centrally located, close to the city clerk staff and ADA parking, as well as a possible short-term parking space on Hopkins Avenue.

A 24/7 video surveillance system via an outdoor camera will be necessary. The cost of the camera, licensing and cloud storage for five years will cost $5,374.

Anticipating that the coronavirus pandemic will still be occurring next year, the City Clerk’s Office will need personal protective equipment to safely conduct the March 2021 city municipal election. Henning estimates that cost to be $3,000.

Assuming that City Hall will be used for election operations, specifically council chambers as the traditional vote center, several changes are being considered.

They include erecting physical barriers between election workers and voters, along with signs directing voters in and out of the voting center. Hand sanitizer, gloves and masks will be provided for election workers and voters, and cleaning supplies and sanitizing methods will be employed so voters can sign in and use voting machines.

Henning said Thursday that the message is voting in person will be discouraged.

“We will be pushing for people to mail in their ballots,” she said.

The clerk’s office is planning a $3,000 public education program, which includes print and targeted digital ads in local newspapers, messaging on the city’s social media accounts, and a communications and outreach plan that will emphasize getting out the vote to those who have lapsed in coming to the polls in previous elections, as well as how and where to vote.

“The campaign will include best practices proven to increase voter turnout in the marketing materials, whether it is the slogans used or using local advocates for voting who may be featured on voting outreach materials,” Henning wrote in a memo to Aspen City Council.

She expects the communications plan will be completed by the end of November, and outreach occurring in earnest in January and run through Election Day.

Henning said the clerk’s office has $3,000, and will ask for the additional money in a supplemental request this fall.

csackariason@aspentimes.com


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