Polling place snafu hits midvalley election

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

A polling place snafu threatens to make it even more difficult for voters to get involved in an obscure special-district election in the midvalley, according to one of the candidates and a Pitkin County commissioner.

Crown Mountain Park and Recreation District is holding an election May 6, for three seats on its board of directors. Four candidates, including all three incumbents, are on the ballot.

District officials initially designated the Eagle County office building and community center as the lone polling place. But Eagle County officials informed the recreation district earlier this month they couldn’t use the center.

“The (Eagle) County Commissioners will be having a meeting on May 6th at the Eagle County Community Building. They do not want any interruption from the election so we have been asked to relocate,” Crown Mountain Park and Recreation District said in an email to candidates and other parties April 14.

“We didn’t deny (access). That’s a bunch of junk. They didn’t reserve it. It’s as simple as that.”
Teak Simonton
Eagle County Clerk and Recorder

The county commissioners meeting has since been canceled, but county officials still don’t want the election in the community center. Eagle County Clerk and Recorder Teak Simonton said even though the commissioners’ meeting was canceled, there are still activities that would be disrupted, such as a gathering for senior citizens. In addition, the building is typically open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., which wouldn’t accommodate the election, she said.

Crown Mountain never requested use of the space, Simonton said, so the election was never officially scheduled at the Eagle County building, in the eyes of the county.

County officials have received a handful of calls from Roaring Fork Valley residents expressing concern that access had been denied at the community building.

“We didn’t deny (access),” Simonton said. “That’s a bunch of junk. They didn’t reserve it. It’s as simple as that.”

Katheryne Fitzpatrick, the designated election official for Crown Mountain, said the new polling place is at the Crown Mountain Park Office, located about a quarter-mile west of the community building. She said some signs have already been placed at the entrance road to both buildings directing voters to the right polling place. Additional signs will be placed along the route to the park office before election day to help guide voters and ease confusion.

It’s important to get the signs up now because voters can pick up and drop off absentee ballots from now until election day, she said.

Katie Schwoerer, the candidate challenging the incumbents, said she is frustrated that the polling place was moved from a high visibility, easily accessible building to one that is off the beaten path and more difficult to find.

“It shouldn’t be this hard to vote,” Schwoerer said.

Schwoerer was the leading opponent of a proposed bond issue for an indoor recreation center at Crown Mountain in an election last fall. The measure was soundly defeated. Now Schwoerer is trying to gain a seat on the board.

She said she has used her email list from that election to try to spread the word about the May 6 polling place.

Bill Reynolds, the current board president and a candidate in the election, said he isn’t concerned about voters not finding the polling place. The election is likely to draw little interest, as special-district elections usually do, he said. But the midvalley voters that do want to weigh in will be able to find the park office.

“If they’re interested, they’re going to find it,” Reynolds said.

The polling place snafu and other issues surrounding the election attracted the interest of Pitkin County Commissioner George Newman, who is a member of the Crown Mountain Recreation District as a resident of Emma.

“I’m disappointed the polling place is going to be fairly inconvenient,” he said.

He said he hopes the district “aggressively” promotes the election and new polling place with signs and advertisements. Newman said his concerns go beyond the polling place. He said Crown Mountain, like many special districts, does too little to make constituents aware that seats on the board of directors are up for election and that the election is being held.

He said there should be lessons learned from the recent Aspen Valley Hospital board of directors’ election, which was canceled because there were no challengers for the incumbents seeking re-election. He suggested there was no interest because no one knew about the open seats.

As for making voters aware of the election and encouraging participation, Newman said Crown Mountain’s board should switch to a mail-in ballot for future elections.

Fitzpatrick said Crown Mountain followed all the steps required by the Colorado Secretary of State for special district elections, including a public notice in The Aspen Times and other newspapers in February that the candidate nomination process was open.

Switching to a mail-in ballot for future elections is something that would require a board decision. Reynolds said the expense would have to be considered.

He noted that there hasn’t been a contested board election in the past.

“This is the first time the board’s actually had to go to election,” Reynolds said.

The four candidates for the three seats on the Crown Mountain board are incumbents Ted Bristol and Rich Pavek in addition to Reynolds. The lone challenger is Schwoerer. It is a four-year term for all seats.


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