Voter fraud or poor losers?
September 11, 2007
SNOWMASS VILLAGE More than two years after the divisive referendum that approved 1 million square feet of development in Snowmass Village, the legality of some voters is in dispute.An article the Snowmass Sun published last month brought up the possibility of voter fraud during the February 2005 Base Village referendum. And this week a columnist for that newspaper submitted a complaint to the Pitkin County District Attorney’s Office alleging voter fraud. The main question is whether dozens of people – mostly second-home owners and transient workers – illegally registered to vote without the intention or action of making Snowmass Village their permanent residence.But even according to the lengthy Snowmass Sun investigation, there was “not enough evidence that would have changed the result of that referendum vote.” Still, the 120-vote difference (a 10 percent margin) was small enough that some in Snowmass have cried foul. The Sun editorialized on a broader basis that “there is a legitimate concern about voter registrations laws, locally and at the state level.”During the three-month investigation, the Snowmass Sun interviewed at least 60 second-home owners who had registered in the 60 days before the vote. Some, such as a family of six who all registered using one address, and none of whom voted in either the 2004 or 2006 election, raised eyebrows. The vote was a big one for the town and likely the biggest vote in which the Aspen Skiing Co. has gotten involved. The Sun reported that David Perry, senior vice president for Skico, called the vote “pivotal” for the company.Base Village consists of 1 million square feet of development, of which Skico owns about 80,000 square feet, including ski-school space and ticketing offices. The entirety of Base Village is due for completion in 2011.It’s no secret that Skico put some marketing muscle behind the referendum, but some townies have claimed the company pushed too hard, though there has been no evidence of wrongdoing.What is not at issue is that a record number of voters showed interest in the referendum. No Snowmass election had ever seen 1,151 voters, and 935 residents voted in the November 2006 election. “The Aspen Skiing Company and Intrawest spent a lot of money convincing voters to vote the way they wanted them to,” Town Councilman Arnie Mordkin said Tuesday. “What’s wrong with that?”The Skico and British Columbia-based Intrawest Corp. were the developers of Base Village, before selling the project to a joint venture known as Related WestPac.Johnny Boyd, a Snowmass Sun columnist and bus driver in the village, has been a force behind the issue. He is the author of the affidavit to the district attorney’s office. “If there’s reasonable suspicion, we’ll do the investigation and see what happens,” said Assistant District Attorney Gail Nichols, who had not read the affidavit as of Tuesday afternoon. For Boyd, it’s a question of closing the voter loophole so locals are not disenfranchised. “I do not want anybody in a town of 1,500 to fraudulently vote in our election,” he said. “If we allow them to pull this off, they’ll do it again. I don’t think the election should be overturned, though I imagine there are grounds.”However, Mordkin argued that this is really just a case of needing to let go of a controversial and divisive vote. Now that construction is well under way and Snowmass is on an irreversible direction, Mordkin said people should look to the future. “These guys are bitching because they lost,” Mordkin said. “I’ve lost elections, but I didn’t run around claiming voter fraud. It’s a dead issue, and it ought to be left dead. It doesn’t let the folks in our community put it aside. It just opens a wound that doesn’t come to any fruition.”The question of second-home owners voting in an election isn’t a foreign idea in Aspen, but the clerk for the city of Aspen, Kathryn Koch, said it is the business owners who live outside the city who have caused problems in the past here. She recalled a 1992 election, decided by three votes, in which voters sued the town because of certain business owners who lived on Red Mountain but had registered to vote with their city business addresses. “I don’t think that’s voter fraud,” Koch said. “I would call that overzealousness.”For Koch, past experience would suggest that the issues of the Snowmass referendum might be a case of a vote close enough that people look more closely at the voters.Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org