Pitkin County fall election method remains undecided
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
ASPEN – The method or methods by which Pitkin County voters will be able to cast a ballot in the November election remains a matter of debate.
Pitkin County commissioners were unable to reach a decision Tuesday on Clerk and Recorder Janice Vos Caudill’s recommendation that the fall election be conducted by mail only, with no polling places. With Commissioner George Newman absent, they agreed to continue the discussion at their regular meeting Wednesday, when a resolution establishing a mail-only election in November is up for consideration.
Only Commissioner Jack Hatfield voiced his position Tuesday, calling the tradition of casting a ballot at a polling place a “democratic right.” He advocated allocating an additional $28,000 to the $45,000 already budgeted by the clerk and recorder in order to allow voters to go to the polls in November.
“I cannot support mail only. I want the options,” Hatfield said, advocating the ability to cast a vote by mail, during early voting or on election day at the polls.
A mail-only election can be conducted at a cost savings, according to Vos Caudill, and data in Pitkin County and across Colorado indicates mail elections increases voter turnout in odd years, when there are no state or federal races on the fall ballot. In 2009, 35 percent of Pitkin County’s voters participated in a mail-only election, the first held locally since 1993.
Hatfield didn’t find 35 percent particularly impressive, given the convenience of voting by mail, but Commissioner Rachel Richards termed it “a good turnout.”
“If nobody voted, you could save a lot of money,” offered Commissioner Michael Owsley, who said he intended to give the matter more thought before Wednesday’s meeting.
“I want Pitkin County to save money … but I also want as many people as possible to vote. That’s my concern,” he said.
“The ultimate goal is getting participants to be part of the election process,” Commissioner Rob Ittner agreed.
Though legislation to mandate mail-only elections failed this year, Colorado lawmakers may eventually pass such a measure, Richards noted. Statewide, a mail-only election in 2008, a presidential election year, would have saved an estimated $8 million to $12 million, Vos Caudill told commissioners.
A mail-ballot election means voters can either mail in their ballot or bring it to the clerk’s office in person and drop it off. If the county goes with a mail-only election, Richards suggested Vos Caudill explore setting up a place in the midvalley where voters can drop their ballots off on election day. She also wondered how many ballots arrive in the mail after the election day deadline, and are not counted.
If the county goes with a mail-only election, ballots will be sent to the county’s “active voters” – currently 7,831 of the county’s 13,944 registered voters, Vos Caudill said. Inactive voters would get a card in the mail this summer instructing them to update their status.
At present, 21 percent of the county’s voters have requested permanent mail-in voter status, opting to vote by mail rather than at the polls. They automatically receive a ballot in the mail when an election occurs.
On another election-related matter, the clerk told commissioners that legislation awaiting the governor’s signature would move primary elections from August to the last Tuesday in June, effective next year, when primaries are likely.
The move is necessary in order to send ballots to military personnel and other voters living overseas 45 days before the November election. An August primary doesn’t allow enough time for the 45-day mandate, Vos Caudill explained.
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