Voter turnout will be up, say local observers
Local political observers are predicting a considerably higher turnout than usual today, when Aspen voters go to the polls to choose three new members of the City Council and approve or reject three ballot questions.
“I’m overwhelmingly impressed by the high early-voter turnout,” said local political activist Jeffrey Evans, referring to the record number of absentee ballots already cast in the election.
“I think, hell, we might even get up to 40 percent this time,” he concluded. “I don’t think we’ll ever see 50 percent again.”
Evans’ expectations were echoed by Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis, another veteran political observer, who agreed that “turnout will be higher than in the recent past.”
Pressed for a prediction, Braudis mused and said, “Oh, I’d say forty-three and a half percent.”
He attributed his prediction for a relatively high turnout to the fact that there are new faces in the race for the mayor’s job, “new blood at the council level, and an awful lot of advertising.”
Today’s ballot offers four candidates for mayor and six candidates for two council seats.
Noting that Aspen voters are “pretty sophisticated,” Braudis maintained that the electorate tends to respond well when the field of candidates is an attractive one. “I think we’ve got some very intelligent, well-motivated candidates in this election,” he added.
City Clerk Kathryn Koch, pointing out that there often is a spike in voter turnout in elections in which there is a retiring incumbent mayor and ballot questions of “high voter interest,” said she expects about 1,800 voters to hit the polls today – a 35 percent turnout.
Another indicator, Koch noted, is the number of calls her office received Monday from citizens asking if it was too late to register to vote. Her office received a dozen such calls, she said, which is “a much higher volume than it was two years ago.”
The generally low voter turnout in recent elections is generally blamed on a combination of apathy and the fact that Aspen has a large number of registered, but “inactive” voters, according to City Hall.
In 1995, the year after the last “purge” of inactive voters from the registration rolls by Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder Sylvia Davis, Aspen had only 3,923 voters registered for the spring municipal election. A total of 1,547 turned out to vote for mayor, City Council candidates and a ballot question on the inauguration of paid parking in the downtown district. That was a turnout of approximately 39 percent.
By 1997, the registration rolls were back up to 5,080 voters. A total of 1,448 (28 percent) voted in that spring’s election, which included a battle for mayor between incumbent John Bennett and then-Councilman Max Marolt. Two City Council seats were also on the ballot.
In what is believed to be the lowest voter turnout in Aspen’s history, only five percent (259 voters) of the 5,335 people registered to vote last year turned out to cast ballots in a special election on June 30. That vote was to authorize the sale of land to the Music Associates of Aspen and renew the Holy Cross Electric Association franchise agreement.
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