The cost of botched elections
The city’s disclosure that taxpayers may be making a forgivable $400,000 loan to the Aspen Chamber Resort Association for marketing generates serious questions of fiscal policy, marketing strategy, and solutions to Aspen’s declining popularity.
As Aspen considers the loss of $1 million in tax revenue, marketing expenditures, and the anticipated visitor spending return on that investment, it’s time to acknowledge the elephant in the room. Regardless of your views on the marketing plan, the aborted lodging tax, or our resulting unexpected “tax” of $400,000, let’s stop ignoring the reason we suddenly face this penalty. Our election systems are anachronistic and incongruent with the needs of our community.
May’s election was plagued with process and procedural errors in addition to the black hole of IRV. The public has not been informed of the host of problems, nor have steps been taken to address those issues, despite the numerous requests made to council as early as June. It has been easier to sweep the problems under the rug as “Marilyn’s sour grapes.” The city tripped over that lump in the rug again in November.
I believe that the expensive November 5A lodging tax election snafu could have been prevented if city management had taken election-quality issues seriously in early summer.
Council has worked diligently to dismantle the independent election commission as commissioners began to become informed on the structural problems in Aspen’s election system. Council’s decimated the bipartisan body which could have lead election-reform efforts and systems rehabilitation. Council will soon appoint their own hand-picked commissioners, breaking the decades-old tradition of taking nominations by the two major parties, which provides some degree of needed autonomy.
Election integrity and process are unpopular and touchy subjects. The displaced election commissioners were dismissed on trumped-up, contrived charges when their real transgression was questioning an entrenched system. They bravely attempted to initiate much-needed citizen oversight, of the type needed for the 5A question and the May election, and quickly found themselves dismissed.
Fundamental to addressing every problem and opportunity we have in Aspen is the obvious requirement for fair, well-managed elections, where the citizens determine government priorities. Regardless of the outcome of the May election, few can justify the complexities of the IRV system or explain how it worked. Between software issues and violations of local and state law in the process, any honest evaluation must acknowledge that it was a botched election from an oversight and control standpoint. The second election this year was botched, as the 5A question controls and process details were not taken seriously. Community cost is clearly in the millions.
It is time to stop politicizing and minimizing election-integrity issues as merely complaints of “sore losers,” and take passionate stewardship of our most fundamental democratic right and responsibility. Let council know that these are our elections, not the government’s elections, and that we will insist on improvements in the most important way we the people speak to our government – our vote.
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