Snafu jeopardizes fate of Aspen’s ballot question 5A
October 26, 2009
ASPEN – The results of a Nov. 3 referendum proposing the creation of an Aspen marketing district have been called into question before the votes are tallied.
The City Council is expected to decide Monday night what to do about a snafu that resulted in some voters receiving a ballot that includes Referendum 5A even though they don’t reside in the district and aren’t supposed to vote on the measure, while others who should be able to vote instead received ballots without 5A on it.
In all, an estimated 110 ballots were affected, including 45 that erroneously included the question and 65 that omitted it, according to Mayor Mick Ireland. He pored over a city map Monday to ascertain the source of the error.
Meanwhile, Debbie Braun, president of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, sent out an email Monday afternoon alerting ACRA board members that the fate of the referendum is up in the air. The ACRA and Aspen Lodging Association are pushing 5A’s passage.
“It is extremely unfortunate that the city could not execute an election correctly with only 700 voters,” she wrote.
The city clerk certified the list of 700-plus voters who were to get ballots that included Referendum 5A, but she was working with data base and mapping errors provided to her, Ireland said in an email sent out on the heels of Braun’s missive.
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At least five streets were omitted from the district map, which has 127 different edges to its borders and encompasses some 4,000 properties and at least 221 street segments, Ireland said, suggesting proponents should have taken more time in defining the district and checking what addresses were in it and outside of it.
“It was done hastily, in my opinion,” he said.
The city initially hoped it might rectify the problems, though the mail-in election is already under way and it’s the Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder’s office that is actually conducting the election. The city clerk provided the list of voters who are supposed to be in the district to the county.
County Clerk and Recorder Janice Vos Caudill said Monday morning she would not attempt to reprogram the statewide voter registration system at midstream in an attempt to correct the problems. The effort could jeopardize the integrity of the election process, she said, noting the mail-in ballots are already in voters’ hands and some of them have already been returned to her office.
“You can’t unscramble an egg. What are you going to do?” said County Attorney John Ely.
The question now, Ireland said, is whether the city will have the results of 5A certified by the county clerk or, in essence, leave those votes untabulated.
Braun said Monday she was holding out hope that the election on Referendum 5A would proceed.
“I’m in somewhat of a state of shock right now,” she said. “It’s certainly a disappointment, with all the work that’s gone into the district.”
Without the marketing district, which would add another 1 percent lodging tax to lodging in Aspen, the ACRA estimates it will have $450,000 to spend on marketing for the resort next year, as opposed to more than $1 million with the district revenue.
If there are no additional marketing dollars, Braun said her focus will be short-term solutions. The marketing district question, because it involves a tax, could not be asked again until November 2010.
The marketing district includes much of downtown Aspen, plus part of the base of Aspen Highlands and the Aspen Meadows area – places where short-term accommodations exist outside the commercial core.